Pennsylvania court blocks Gov. Wolf’s bridge tolling plan

Sensors and lights are seen at the west bound toll gate of the Pennsylvania Turnpike

In this photo taken through a windshield, the sensors and lights are seen at the west bound toll gate of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Cranberry Township, Pa., on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

A state court on Thursday permanently blocked Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to toll as many as nine major bridges on interstates in Pennsylvania, siding with three Pittsburgh-area municipalities that argued that his administration had violated procedures in getting to the advanced stage of considering the idea.

A panel of Commonwealth Court judges granted the municipalities’ request to effectively declare the plan dead because Wolf’s Department of Transportation had not followed the law.

One key element on which the court agreed with the municipalities is the claim that PennDOT was required to propose specific bridges to toll when it asked the Public-Private Transportation Partnership Board in 2020 for permission to move forward with a bridge-tolling plan. It did not.

As a result, parties potentially affected by a tolling project — such as a municipality — had no opportunity to meaningfully give input to the process before the board’s decision, the court said.

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A Commonwealth Court judge in a separate case in May had imposed a temporary injunction on the tolling projects.

Wolf’s push for tolling comes as states increasingly look to user fees to make up for declining gas tax revenue that is not keeping up with the demands of fixing highways and bridges.

It also comes amid rising gas prices and spurred opposition from some communities and Republican lawmakers. Wolf himself only has eight months left in office, and neither of his potential successors in November’s election support it.

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