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Local leaders say no to toll proposal meant to fund bridge repairs

Local leaders are not keen about using highway tolls to fund bridge repairs, a concept that has already met with strong opposition from a handful of Republican lawmakers in the western part of the state.

Nine bridges along Interstate 80 in the state are being considered for tolling as part of the plan by the state Department of Transportation.

None of the bridges are in the region.

Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce President Jason Fink said tolls on any part of I-80 are not a concept the business community is likely to embrace.

He recalled the outcry from many officials from industry and business speaking out against tolling of I-80 when it was being considered years ago.

“I understand the fact they need to generate revenue,” he said.

State Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township, noted that the state already has the second-highest gasoline tax in the nation.

A toll would only further burden motorists and businesses driving the interstate.

“Anytime you implement a tax, which is what this would be, it never goes away,” he said. “It’s just another tax.”

He suspects that the introduction of tolling is coming at a time when fewer gas revenues are being produced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

State Rep. Joe Hamm, R-Hepburn Township, said he’s “100 percent” opposed to tolls.

“It furthers the narrative of Gov. Tom Wolf and tax and spend,” he said.

Hamm said businesses will likely be up in arms over the situation.

“We already pay the second-highest gas tax in the country to pay for bridges and roads,” he said. “We’ve got to stop asking citizens to dig deeper into their pockets.”

Hamm noted that the money to pay for roads and bridges is already there with funding being siphoned out of the gas tax to pay for state police.

“We will have to take legislative action to actually stop this (tolling) from happening,” he said.

Added Wheeland: “A toll is a tax, and I’m not in favor of that.”

Fink noted that the state is going to have to seriously rethink the strategy for funding roads and bridges.

With increasingly more electric and fuel-efficient vehicles driving the highways, the gas tax is going to generate less revenue.

“I completely understand we need to prop up our roads, but how do you do it?” he said. “You can’t just keep jacking up the tax rate.”

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