A judge on Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court issued an injunction Wednesday afternoon that stops a plan to toll the Interstate 79 bridge at the Bridgeville exchange and eight other interstate bridges until the full court can weigh in on it.
The injunction was released after opponents of the proposed tolling made arguments Wednesday before the court on behalf of South Fayette and Collier townships and Bridgeville Borough.
The three municipalities filed suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) in November, contending that if a plan to toll the bridge in both directions is given the green light, it would have an adverse impact on those communities by increasing traffic on roads and streets that are ill-equipped to handle additional vehicles.
The suit also states that the Public-Private Transportation Partnership (P3) Board, which approved the potential tolling of the bridges in various locations across the state in November 2020, did not determine the scope and impact of the projects before proceeding with them. It says this violated Act 88, which establishes the guidelines for the state to enter into partnerships with private entities for transportation projects.
John Smith, a Southpointe-based attorney representing the three municipalities in the suit, argued before the court in Pittsburgh that the November 2020 vote was “an unlawful delegation of legislative power to the P3 board.” When it was announced the following February that the I-79 bridge was among those being considered, Smith said local elected officials were blindsided.
“PennDOT did not follow Act 88,” Smith said.
But A. Michael Pratt, an attorney representing the commonwealth, countered that if the suit is successful, it would allow municipalities across the state to challenge every PennDOT decision.
“No one wants tolls,” Pratt said. “It is a necessary evil.”
The precise amount of tolls has yet to be determined, but $1 to $2 per trip has been mentioned. PennDOT has said it is considering tolling the I-79 bridge near Bridgeville and other interstate spans through public-private partnerships because they need to be refurbished. Tolls, PennDOT officials argue, would allow revenue from the state’s gasoline tax to go toward local projects. They also say that the gas tax is increasingly falling short in providing the revenue PennDOT needs. Tolls collected by drivers crossing the bridges would go to private contractors who would handle the construction and design of the bridges.
The span at Bridgeville was built in 1965 and last upgraded in 1998. Pratt argued that if the suit is successful and the tolling does not happen, the bridge would run the risk of being closed because of structural deficiencies and that would also harm those communities.
“They’ll come to the court to reopen it,” he said.
Jen Schiovani, an attorney representing the municipalities, told the court that the General Assembly needed to have more say-so in the process.
“At the end of the day, we still have bridges that need to be fixed,” she said.