Interstate tolls could drive people away

March 14, 1997


Staff Writer

Trucks would rumble through small towns and along back roads if states were to put tollbooths on interstate highways, a local trucking official predicted Thursday.

"We'll start going back through the towns. We can't afford (tolls). We'll have to go back to the old roads," Dave Burger, of Gabler Trucking Inc. in Chambersburg, Pa., said.

Tolls currently are permitted on what are now interstates that were built entirely with state revenues before the Interstate Highway System was created in 1956. Tolls also are allowed on certain interstate segments where there is new construction, such as a bridge.


To help foot the bill for President Clinton's $175 billion program for new highway projects, states would be allowed to charge tolls on existing sections of interstate highways everywhere.

If Congress approves the plan and Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia were to decide to take advantage of this new revenue source, then residents and businesses in the Tri-State area would have to pay to use both Interstates 70 and 81.

L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County (Pa.) Area Development Corp., predicted that the average commuter who travels on Tri-State area interstates would be outraged by a toll system.

But Jim Aden, who drives 170 miles round trip every weekday from his home in Waynesboro, Pa., to his job in Washington, D.C., said he would welcome tolls if they meant better maintained highways.

"Hey, look, if they can keep the roads in good shape I have no problem with it at all," Aden said. "I think I should pay my share to keep those roads in good shape."

The severity of the past few winters has caused roads to deteriorate and in the past five years Aden has had to replace his windshield four times because of damage from rocks and debris, he said.

But critics of the toll plan say the result would be more than a token cost to the local economy.

Gabler Trucking Inc. runs about 10 trucks, mostly hauling paper products, in Pennsylvania and Virginia, Burger said.

Trucking companies of all sizes would feel pinched by interstate tolls, he said.

"The cost is prohibitive and we have already paid for the interstate highways. Now they want to go back and tax us," Burger said. "Tolling on existing highways is just uncalled for."

Bruce Van Wyk, a major developer in Berkeley County, W.Va., and president of Van Wyk Enterprises Inc., said he wondered "who is going to regulate what the states can do?"

A truck or car entering Maryland from Pennsylvania could have to pay a toll, then pay another one 12 miles later when it entered West Virginia, and still another one 26 miles later when it hit Virginia, Van Wyk said.

"Every state is going to try to take a whack out of them," he predicted.

The interstate highway system was established to allow unimpeded travel coast to coast, Van Wyk said.

But a toll booth system would "destroy the original purpose of the interstates," Van Wyk said.

Some Tri-State area economic development officials said the impact would depend on whether all three states adopted a toll system and whether they all charged the same.

"The question is whether it creates routes that are less desirable," Washington County Economic Development Coordinator Sharon Disque said. "We need to know what the other communities would do."

Disque said her "gut reaction" is that Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia might be more likely to institute tolls because of their revenue needs and tax structure.

Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening has not taken a position on the tollbooth plan, his spokesman Ray Feldmann said Thursday.

"Quite frankly we think it's a flexibility we don't think we need," Maryland Department of Transportation Spokesman Chuck Brown said.

Pro and con

There would be a disparity if one state imposed a toll system on the interstate and a neighboring state didn't. The state with a toll would be at a competitive disadvantage, Ross said.

"If it's done across the board it's not a problem," he said.

It's a complicated issue, especially with a deteriorating highway system and the "enormous cost" of road maintenance, Ross said.

It is equitable "in theory" for highway drivers to pay for the use of the road, he said.

However, there is "no sound history that (tolls will) drastically improve the roads system," Ross said.

Interstate tolls could bring good news to railroads, making them more competitive with trucking, Disque said.

The Herald-Mail Articles