Camp Hill Considers Legal Action Over I-83 Bridge Toll As Local Authorities Discuss Response | The Sentinel: News

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Local officials hope to present a united front against the state’s proposal to toll the Interstate 83 bridge over the Susquehanna, with the Camp Hill Borough Council allowing their attorney to consider a lawsuit that could involve d other municipalities.

Camp Hill hosted an event at City Hall ahead of Wednesday’s borough council meeting to consider the issue, attended by county officials and state lawmakers.

“I don’t think they considered what it would do to the borough of Camp Hill,” Rep. Greg Rothman said, a sentiment widely shared among those present.

Exactly how PennDOT thinks the toll would shake up for surrounding communities, and why, is still a bit of a mystery, according to the borough. PennDOT has a traffic study but has not yet released it, said Camp Hill Borough Engineer Mike Hess. Questions about the baselines and assumptions the study is working on are still unanswered.

“If we don’t agree with any of those aspects, we want to push back,” Hess said.

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PennDOT officials were asked to attend on Wednesday but declined, Camp Hill council chairwoman Alissa Packer said.

The I-83 bridge toll that connects the lower portion of the West Rim to the south end of Harrisburg, commonly referred to as the South Bridge, is intended to help pay for the construction of a new bridge.

The current bridge is nearing the end of its lifespan, according to PennDOT. The replacement bridge would be widened to five lanes in each direction, at a total cost of $500 million to $650 million, according to PennDOT’s current plans.

Local opposition to tolls is based on traffic diversion. Although the western end of the bridge runs along the southern boundary of Lemoyne and the northern boundary of New Cumberland, Camp Hill will likely be most affected by vehicles seeking alternate routes to avoid the toll. If a toll is put in place, some motorists are expected to reroute to the bypass via Camp Hill and over the Harvey Taylor Bridge.

The I-83 bridge handles an average of 125,000 vehicles per day. Camp Hill officials cited an estimate that about 20 percent of cars could avoid the bridge due to the toll, assuming typical PennDOT tolls are between $1 and $2.

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If all of these vehicles went to the Harvey Taylor Bridge, which averages less than 25,000 vehicles per day, it would double the volume of traffic through Camp Hill.

PennDOT would be needed to mitigate the impact, Hess said. This would likely involve altering signal timing and/or adding turn lanes; Borough council members have expressed concern over such an impact given that Camp Hill has reserved pedestrian crossing times at several of its traffic lights, intended to ensure the safety of pupils walking to school at foot.

Almost every municipality in eastern Cumberland County, as well as county commissioners, have issued resolutions opposing the toll. County Commissioners Jean Foschi and Vince DiFilippo, who also attended Wednesday, said the proposal appeared to be one of the worst possible ways to fund infrastructure.

Tolls are effectively a regressive tax, Foschi said, because the toll is not indexed to a person’s income or ability to pay. County Planning Director Kirk Stoner said current figures indicate that 69% of South Bridge traffic comes from within 10 miles of the bridge, indicating that most users are local.

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It’s somewhat unique from other bridges that PennDOT offers tolls, Stoner said. These bridges have much higher rates of through traffic and freight that are less likely to be diverted.

“The question I keep asking is ‘why would you want to toll a bridge where most of the traffic is local traffic? “,” DiFilippo said, as local hijackings will create “a spider’s web of trouble.”

Over the summer, PennDOT’s Transportation Revenue Options Commission released a report that included dozens of possible funding mechanisms as part of a broader overhaul of how the state funds transportation; but this report does not appear to have had any impact on the pursuit of tolls to fund bridge replacements.

On Wednesday, several officials questioned why PennDOT had not decided to revise its proposals in light of the federal infrastructure bill signed into law by President Joe Biden in November. PennDOT is expected to receive about $4 billion under the federal infrastructure plan.

While there’s interest in Harrisburg to pursue other funding options, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus yet.

“The push has to be to get the will and the votes out there to do them,” Rep. Sheryl Delozier said.

Meanwhile, some municipalities have turned to the courts to stop or delay implementing tolls, something Camp Hill may also do, after borough council voted on Wednesday to allow borough counsel to pursue legal options as well as the interest of other municipalities to join Camp Hill in such an effort.

This is happening in the western part of the state, where several municipalities in Allegheny County are jointly suing PennDOT over I-79 toll projects, according to reports from KDKA, the Observer-Report and other news outlets. the region.

This lawsuit alleges that PennDOT and the state’s Public-Private Partnership for Transportation, or P3, board of directors violated requirements for dialogue with local stakeholders on studies and impact assessments that, according to the assertions of the lawsuit, were not actually made before PennDOT solicited PPP proposals.

The toll program is the result of a November 2020 decision by the P3 Board to allow PennDOT to review public-private partnership mechanisms to pay for bridge repair and replacement.

The P3 Board has the statutory power of the legislature to enact such programs. In this case, PPP deals would involve paying for bridge work by having a private entity essentially buy a stake in a bridge’s future toll revenue.

In February 2021, PennDOT returned with a list of nine bridges for which PPP proposals would be solicited.

The timing of these actions is problematic, Delozier said. By law, the legislature has a certain number of days to pass a resolution against a decision of the board of directors of a PPP, but the action of the board was taken when the legislature no longer had enough session days to propose a vote against the proposal, said Delozier.

Even if it was, PennDOT didn’t release a list of bridges until later, which Delozier described as an attempt to “work around” the language of the P3 Act by not giving the Legislature enough scrutiny. information to make a decision until it’s too late. .

The Legislature has a bill, Senate Bill 382, ​​that would add additional oversight to the P3 system and could potentially force the P3 board and PennDOT to redo their proposal. The bill has passed the state Senate and House and is awaiting further Senate committee action before being submitted to Governor Tom Wolf.

The question beyond the impact of the I-83 toll is how to pay for Pennsylvania’s dilapidated infrastructure. Stoner said there is no doubt that major features such as the South Bridge urgently need replacing.

PennDOT’s earnings report from the summer includes a number of broader charges on vehicles and auto sales that would bear much of the brunt. One was championed by Rothman – a bill that would impose user fees on electric vehicles, given that these vehicles also impose a demand on public transit infrastructure but do not pay a user fee. gasoline tax. Negotiations on the proposal are ongoing, Rothman said.

According to the report, Pennsylvania’s reliance on a relatively high gasoline tax is a fundamental part of the problem. This is a volatile funding stream that is also used to fund the Pennsylvania State Police.

Funding the state police in other ways would spend more gas tax dollars on infrastructure, and that’s something that’s still under consideration, Rothman said. Wolf’s favorite has been his proposal to charge fees to municipalities that do not have their own local police forces and depend on the state police, although this proposal has not yet been the subject of a budget negotiation.

Email Zack at [email protected]

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