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Proposal to toll Harrisburg bridge meets growing opposition

PennDOT’s plan to reconstruct the I-83 South bridge connecting Harrisburg and Cumberland County is facing overwhelming criticism due to the possibility of tolls.

CAMP HILL, Pa. — PennDOT’s plan to pay for the reconstruction of the I-83 South bridge connecting Harrisburg and Cumberland County via tolls is facing overwhelming opposition from residents and government officials of West Shore municipalities.

The Camp Hill Borough Council held a special town hall meeting on Jan. 12 to discuss concerns relating to the proposal.

The meeting included State Rep. Greg Rothman (R-Cumberland) and Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) as well as elected officials from Camp Hill, East Pennsboro, Hampden Township, Lemoyne, Lower Allen Township, New Cumberland, Mechanicsburg, and Wormleysburg.

All officials at the meeting spoke against tolling, which they said unfairly targeted local communities who use the bridge most often.

No one objected to the need for a new bridge; the current one was built in 1960 and widened in 1982. It carries more than 125,000 vehicles across the Susquehanna River every day, according to PennDOT.

“There’s no doubt we need to replace the bridge,” Kirk Stoner, director of Planning for Cumberland County said. “I think the mechanism of replacement is really what we’re looking at, specifically the funding mechanism.”

The project would completely replace the seven-lane bridge with a 10-lane bridge throughout the course of seven years, at a cost of $500 to 650 million. As proposed, the cost would be paid through a public-private partnership via the statewide Major Bridge P3 Initiative, in which a private company would pay for construction and then be reimbursed through tolls for an estimated 30 years.

That plan was met with skepticism by some residents.

“Who exactly benefits from this other than a private consortium with enough money to buy a bridge?” Andrew Bowman of Lower Allen Township said. 

PennDOT officials are searching for new strategies for funding amid a current $8.1 billion budget shortfall. PennDOT says it considered other options to pay for the bridge construction, such as gas tax increases, mileage-based user fees, and sales taxes.

The proposed toll would be $1 to 2 to drive across the new bridge through EZPass or Toll By Plate, starting in 2024. The cost for commercial vehicles would be higher.

West Shore officials are concerned about the 22% of drivers PennDOT predicts would avoid the toll by taking a different route, which would be about 1,800 cars every hour during peak hours. The additional traffic could cause increased congestion and potential safety issues.

“If traffic reroutes onto the bypass and the bypass is congested, which it already is, especially during rush hours, would those motorists then try to bypass the bypass by using borough streets?” Camp Hill Borough engineer Michael Hess said. 

Several officials advocated for a different option: using some of the $4.1 billion coming to Pennsylvania as part of the recently passed federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

“We should be getting that money for Pennsylvania from the federal government to fix our bridges and our highways, and we probably don’t need to toll right now,” State Rep. Rothman said. 

The Dauphin County commissioners wrote in a statement:

“As elected representatives of Dauphin County and servants to the people, we have had many discussions on the I-83 South Bridge tolling concept, both publicly and privately with constituents – as well as internally as a board of commissioners. The concept has been met with sharp criticism and loud objection from all communication lines.

Additionally, our executive staff attended town-hall style meetings about the concept in Dauphin County and Cumberland Counties where PennDOT officials were met with overwhelming opposition from residents and local government officials alike.

As a board, we are at a loss for how this tolling concept would benefit our residents and commuters, or how it would make Dauphin County a more attractive prospect for homeowners, renters, leisure-seekers, students, or workers.

Growth would be stalled. The toll concept has no consideration of that repercussion, which is the chief consideration, obligation, and function of local government.”

Ultimately, the Camp Hill Borough Council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution opposing South Bridge tolling and authorized legal action. 

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