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I-80 toll opponents want law repealed

Act 44 gave Turnpike Commission chance to put tolls on the highway.

The feds might have nixed putting tolls on Interstate 80, but Vince Matteo’s youth spent watching horror films steeled him for what he said needs to be done: repeal Act 44.

“It’s not enough to put a stake in the vampire. You have to burn the body,” he said during an interview on Monday.

Matteo, president of the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, was speaking as a representative of the Alliance to Stop I-80 Tolling.

Even though earlier this month the Federal Highway Administration rejected the state’s request to toll the 311-mile east-west span, the alliance feels the issue isn’t settled until the act that created the idea is repealed.

Act 44, passed in 2007, called for raising $116 billion over 50 years by issuing bonds, increasing tolls on the Turnpike and allows tolls to be put on I-80. As long as the act exists, it “still leaves something open, if only a crack, for tolling Interstate 80 in the future, and I think the near future,” Matteo said.

He and Ed Edwards, president of the Columbia Montour Chamber of Commerce, argued that it’s not fair to place tolls on I-80 to pay for public transportation in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The only fair thing would be to toll every road, though they’re not proposing that, they said.

The point is that legislators didn’t study the issue, didn’t investigate alternatives and simply pushed through a plan that they felt wouldn’t raise much fuss from the country folk who inhabit upstate Pennsylvania, they said.

“It was the path of least resistance,” Edwards said. “I think they thought, ‘How much opposition could there be? This is all farm lands and woodlands.’ ” He said alternatives have been offered, but they were either immediately dismissed or left to whither in legislative committees.

“They don’t want to pay their fair share,” Matteo said of legislators from the state’s major metropolitan areas. “I believe it’s a purely political move on their part.”

Though the alliance, made up mostly of business associations along the interstate’s corridor, wants to see Act 44 repealed, it equally believes the legislature needs to quickly find another source fund road and bridge repair. “We prefer that they not allow the Turnpike Commission get deeper and deeper and deeper into debt,” Edwards said.

A Quinnipiac University poll in August found nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvanians opposed I-80 tolls. Every region opposed it, though Philadelphia had the lowest opposition rate of 51 percent.

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