Facing an $8.1 billion gap in funding for bridge and road projects, PennDOT is considering charging fees for motorists driving across some bridges.
Secretary Yassmin Gramian said federal funding has remained flat for the last few years despite rising inflation.
This has been exacerbated by the pandemic and a severe reduction in funding coming in from gasoline taxes.
“A safe and reliable transportation network is critical to quality of life for those who travel throughout our state,” Gramian said. “We take our responsibility as stewards of mobility very seriously, which is why we must explore options.”
The proposed fees are part of a new transportation initiative by PennDOT to maintain and improve the state’s highways and bridges. The state has more than 40,000 miles of highway and more than 25,000 bridges to maintain.
Alan D. Piper, Berks County transportation planner, alerted the Reading Area Transportation Study group during a Nov. 19 meeting of the plan.
Piper requested transportation planners and the public review information presented on PennDOT’s website, www.penndot.gov/funding, and provide input.
Feedback will be accepted until Dec. 17.
“It’s important that everyone take a look at this,” Piper said. “It’s in all our interest to ensure we have the ability to move forward.”
A decision on which, if any, bridges would have tolls, or any other new methods to obtain funding has not been determined.
Piper said he could not predict if any bridges in Berks would qualify for a fee.
The fee concept was approved by a PennDOT public-private transportation partnership board.
The board will review comments until the end of February.
A public comment session will be scheduled in March, and the funding methods will be updated in April.
The funding would be used to offset the reduction in income from gas taxes during the pandemic.
The bulk, or 74%, of bridge and highway construction is paid for by the gas tax.
The gas tax, also known as the liquid fuels tax, is paid by oil companies and passed to consumers at the pump. Anyone paying for gas is paying to repair Pennsylvania’s aging infrastructure.
The consumer pays 57.6 cents per gallon to PennDOT and 18.5 cents to the federal government.
While consumers are using less gas during the pandemic, which is good for the environment, PennDOT is collecting less revenue.
PennDOT recently launched a new program, the Pathways program, to examine potential funding solutions.
In addition to fees on bridges, these are some of potential funding strategies that PennDOT is exploring:
• Charging tolls to drivers in specific locations such as the Walt Whitman and Commodore Barry bridge in Philadelphia.
• Managing lanes, that include allowing drivers to pay a fee for a fast lane, carpool, or use a regular lane.
Charging a fee based on congestion, which encourages drivers to carpool.
Tolling interstates and expressways.
Charging a small fee based on the number of miles a driver drives.