Upper St. Clair Township is poised to join nearby municipalities in opposing plans to subject Interstate 79 to tolling.
At their regular meeting April 5, township commissioners will vote on a resolution that cites potentially negative impacts if the state follows through on the Department of Transportation’s proposal to charge motorists as a means of paying for improvements to I-79 in the vicinity of the Bridgeville interchange.
“PennDOT had proposed funding this project through a new public-private partnership, or P3 initiative, as they referred to it,” township manager Matthew Serakowski told commissioners during their March 29 informational and general affairs meeting. “This delivery model was for bridges in need of replacement, rehabilitation and consideration of other locations for such improvements.”
To pay for such projects, the idea is to pursue levying tolls “without using PennDOT’s current funding resources,” Serakowski said. “The funds of this mechanism would go directly back into those specific locations that would be tolled.”
Upper St. Clair staff members have been conferring with their counterparts from Bridgeville Borough and Collier Township, along with South Fayette Township, where the interchange is located.
“There’s a general agreement that tolling of the Bridgeville interchange would negatively impact our region and the Route 50 corridor,” Serakowski said. “This includes exacerbating current traffic congestion, impacting pedestrian safety, degradation of local roadways, negative impact on regional development, along with environmental impacts with the onset of additional traffic through the corridor.”
He noted Pennsylvania “already boasts one of the highest gasoline taxes in the nation, which is to be utilized for funding of infrastructure projects.”
A resolution for Upper St. Clair has been drafted, similar in wording to other municipalities that have taken such measures to express their opposition. Resolutions in Bridgeville and South Fayette both state their communities were “blindsided” by PennDOT’s original Feb. 23 announcement.
The project would cost between $120 million and $150 million, and also include widening the highway in the area of the bridge. Officials have suggested the tolls would be about $1 to $2.
“Tolling would entirely be electronic. It would be collected using EZ Pass or license plate billing,” Serakowski said, referencing mechanisms by which payments are tabulated on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and other toll roads and bridges.
Bridgeville’s resolution contends “if these tolls are permitted to be imposed, many of the 87,000 motorists who use this roadway each day will find themselves using alternative routes, such as our local roadways.”
Route 50, for example, already is subject to periods of heavy congestion, especially at the single-lane bridges that carry vehicles to and from both sides of the borough. I-79’s two interchanges in Collier also face the possibility of heavier traffic, with motorists using them to avoid having to pay tolls.
The bridge at the interchange in South Fayette was built in 1965 and rehabilitated in 1998. PennDOT’s plans call for the latest improvement project, which includes highway widening, to start in 2023 at the earliest.
The proposal also has drawn opposition from elected officials at the state level and groups that support business interests, including the South West Communities Chamber of Commerce, which has its headquarters along Route 50 in Collier.
“While rehabbing aging bridges and reconfiguring the interchange is of importance and should not be overlooked,” chamber executive director Mandi Pryor said, “the plan failed to show any consideration of the current plans to alleviate the traffic-swamped roadways along Route 50 and Washington Pike/Avenue and would likely reverse the years of work local legislators have dedicated to fixing the region’s traffic problems.”