The South West Communities Chamber of Commerce began collecting signatures earlier this week.
“[PennDOT’s] 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 regions traffic problems,” said Mandi Pryor, chamber of commerce’s executive director.
PennDOT wants to replace the bridge where I-79 crosses over Route 50 in South Fayette and and add additional lanes. To pay for that work—and presumably fund other projects throughout the Pennsylvania—the cash-strapped state agency would collect tolls on motorist using that section of I-79 for at least the next 30 years.
The proposal has been heavily criticized since it was announced two months ago. Earlier this week, PennDOT secretary Yassmin Gramian defended the plan as a response to the “unavoidable reality” that the agency’s traditional funding mechanism, the gasoline tax, is no longer an adequate or reliable revenue source in the era of hybrid and electric cars.
But some leaders say that the toll bridge will do tremendous economic harm to nearby communities, including Bridgeville and South Fayette.
Motorists hoping to avoid the toll plaza would likely use Bridgeville as an free, alternate route, said Bridgeville borough councilman Joe Verduci. That would increase Bridgeville’s traffic congestion and introduce other problems.
“[The toll bridge plan would] create dire consequences that will negatively affect the health, growth and sustainability of our community,” he said, “including: exacerbated traffic congestion, adding to unsafe conditions for pedestrians, degradation of our local roadways that already lack funding to be maintained, reduce property values, result in a lack of future development and investment, and will impose many negative environmental impacts resulting from increased idling of vehicles sitting in traffic.”
Chamber of Commerce president Glenn Wells said that “the financial burden this will have on our residents will be insurmountable.”
State Senator Devlin Robinson, of Bridgeville, believes that as Pennsylvania recovers from the pandemic, gasoline tax revenues will once again provide the funding that PennDOT needs.
“The government should focus on getting the vaccine in peoples’ arms so they are driving again, going back to school and work and continuing on with their lives,” he said. “Then, the revenue from the gas tax will cover pre-pandemic budget shortfalls and a toll will not be necessary.”
PennDOT’s plan does have its defenders, however, including the Allegheny Institute—the conservative/libertarian think tank that recently published a policy brief suggesting that the toll road would have little impact on I-79’s traffic volume.