Trucking group says additional tolls in Pennsylvania would ‘destroy’ industry

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They will generate money to reconstruct and maintain five to 10 bridges in the state

(WKBN) – A plan to charge tolls on some bridges throughout Pennsylvania will “destroy” the trucking industry, according to Joe Butzer, interim president of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association.

On Monday, he told the Senate of Transportation Committee that the trucking industry accounts for 40% of transportation funding in Pennsylvania and operates using 9% of the total miles on the roadways.

“The hardest part is going to be we can’t pass along the cost. The cost has to be bored by the trucking company,” Butzer said.

According to Butzer, trucking companies are given a set amount to ship something, and they have to work within that amount to get something shipped cost-effectively. Included in that are toll costs. While companies can avoid tolls, it becomes difficult to do as more pop up.

“The other side of it is it really hurts Pennsylvania trucking companies more than anybody else because we’re the ones that cross that bridge twice to go in and out and make deliveries,” Butzer said.

According to Ken McClain, the Alternative Funding Director for PennDOT, the budget for highways and bridges in the state is $8.1 billion annually. Seventy-four percent of that comes from some sort of federal or state gas tax.

“With the fuel efficiencies of combustible engine vehicles, the advent of electric vehicles, and the advances in battery technology, we are starting to see some significant reductions at the gas pump for those revenues,” McClain said.

Butzer said that they are decades away from electric trucks becoming mainstream and there’s no infrastructure for it, yet.

“They’re also very, very expensive, and the rates that the trucking companies are getting paid right now won’t even cover the cost of that,” he said.

Butzer told the committee that most companies in the trucking industry are happy with a one to three percent margin, while the majority operate with less than 1%. The narrow margins and increasing costs to run a company make it difficult to survive if these tolls are added.

Mark Longietti, D-17th district, said he has been an opponent during his career of tolling because the commonwealth has some of the highest tolls on the turnpike. He said they need to be mindful of how much they’re asking motorists and trucking companies to pay in order to be competitive.

“One thing that Pennsylvania has traditionally not done over the last several decades is finance bridge repairs and construction like most other states do. It’s a long term project, so bridges tend to last 50 to 100 years. Most states use bond financing to pay for that over time just like a homeowner would when they buy a home,” Longietti said.

The list of which bridges will receive tolls should be available in February. Right now PennDOT is advancing the studies on the project after approval from the Pennsylvania P3 board, according to McClain.

“The criteria that we’re looking at is roughly the age of the structure, the structural condition of the bridge itself, and crash history associated with the bridge and approach roadways. Probably one of the most important things we’re going to be doing is a toll revenue analysis to make sure that the bridges can in fact generate the appropriate level of revenue to pay for themselves for the reconstruction, the ongoing maintenance period of the bridges, support some program administration charges and to make sure that the program is economically viable moving forward,” McClain said.

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