Toll roads are not a new concept. There were tolls collected in Babylon. Aristotle spoke of them in the ancient world. During the Middle Ages, they were common tools of both official and criminal collection.

But now PennDOT is planning to expand its network of toll roads with the Pathways Major Bridge Public-Private Partnership (P3) Initiative — a $1.6 billion to $2.2 billion investment in rehabilitation of up to nine interstate bridges, announced in November.

One of those bridges will be on I-79 where it crosses Route 50. The project also would reconfigure the Bridgeville interchange to a total cost of $120 million to $150 million.

It’s a lot of money, but road projects always are. Throw in a bridge, and that only ups the price tag. PennDOT Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration Melissa Batulasays the toll fees will be reasonable.

”For passenger cars, we’re talking in the $1 to $2 range, maybe a little bit higher, but in that general range,” she said. “We are very mindful of the impact that those do have, so we’re trying to keep those as low as possible.”

But is that really true? Any of it?

ncreases on Pennsylvania toll roads are as dependable as the Pirates missing the playoffs, as regular as sunrise the past 13 years. In 2019, CEO Mark Compton said annual toll increases on Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission roads could continue until 2044.

Even if these roads were separate from that, it seems unlikely the same logic of, “Hey, what’s another dime?” wouldn’t hold. The state is not one to turn down an opportunity to take another nickel, much less a pile of nickels from a stream of oncoming traffic.

Not everyone is in favor. While Harrisburg likes the idea, the state senator representing the area doesn’t.

”As one of the fastest developing areas in Allegheny County and Southwest Pennsylvania, this proposal would have catastrophic effects on the current and future business development in a region that has seen recent growth and significant investments,” said state Sen. Devlin Robinson, R- Bridgeville.

Perhaps the best proof of this is that PennDOT officials confirmed Thursday the 57.6-cents-a-gallon gas tax isn’t cutting it anymore. The state is going to more creative funding models like a P3 and tolling, freeing up the money it might normally have invested in a bridge project to go for things such as paving roads and replacing guiderails.

But if a gas tax isn’t working, does it really seem likely a bridge toll will? It’s hard to drive across the bridge if you didn’t fill up the tank.

— The Tribune-Review/TNS

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