July 28 — HARRISBURG — Technically, Gov. Tom Corbett’s transportation funding commission will not recommend new tolls, but the specter of tolls on state roads and interstates in the next decade is clearly present in its final report to be submitted Friday to Corbett.
“Tolling is not something that is going to happen immediately, but is it one of the possible solutions long term? Sure it is,” said state Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch, commission chairman. “It doesn’t mean that we would do any tolling; we’re not recommending any tolling.”
But Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission, which was tasked with finding more than $2.5 billion annually for transportation infrastructure projects, will suggest that the Legislature pass "enabling legislation" to provide the groundwork for tolls on state roads at a later time.
The enabling legislation is a suggestion not included among the commission’s official revenue-generating recommendations. The report lays out a plan for generating $2.7 billion in new revenue during the next five years from other sources, and the commission did not address specific roads or tolling projects.
Among the report’s recommendations are increasing driver’s license and vehicle registration fees and uncapping a portion of the state’s gasoline tax as well as changing how the state pays mass transit agencies. The Legislature and governor would have to approve these recommendations before they can go into effect.
The difference between those plans and new tolls on Pennsylvania roads is as subtle as the difference between suggestions and recommendations.
Schoch said tolling is a long-term solution to deal with likely cuts in federal transportation spending.
Pennsylvania could see its federal funding cut by as much as $500 million because of some proposals in Washington, D.C., for a new transportation authorization spending bill. If that happens, Schoch said, the state must have alternatives. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation received more than $1.5 billion from the federal government last year.