Calling the Ghost
Ever think of all of the ways that you support Pennsylvania? Every time you gas-up you drop nearly 33 cents into the state’s treasury for every gallon you buy. If you pick up a pack of cigarettes there’s another $1.25 that Harrisburg can spend.
As I sat smoking, stuck in my favorite daily traffic jam, I pondered the question: with all of these taxes why is this state bent on charging us to sit on these roads? Efforts continue at the Turnpike Commission to get tolls slapped on I-80 and a study is underway on crammed route 422 in Berks and Montgomery counties to potentially get tolls levied. One study indicates that I-80 potential revenue forecasts are wildly overstated and many doubt that tolls could raise nearly enough to do anything worthwhile with 422. Pay as you go, even after you’ve paid, seems to be the way that Pennsylvania’s highways are going. Why is that I wondered?
So with nothing to do but watch miles of cars in front of me I abandoned my bad habit for a minute and called the Governor’s Hotline On State Transportation, 1-800 GHOST.
A deep, gravelly, machine voice answered: "Welcome to my hotline on state transportation we are here to help in any way we can. To make a contribution to the state’s highway improvement fund press 1 now and have your credit card ready. If you’d like to have the gasoline tax raised press 2 and if you’d like to pay more in sales taxes press 3." Then the voice started to chuckle, "that last one is a little joke for residents of Philadelphia," it said, "all others press 4."
I beeped 4 and stayed on hold as long as I could but eventually traffic disbursed. I don’t like to talk and drive so I never got an answer to my question about tolls on jammed roadways.
Tolling highways is a phantom solution to the state’s highway problems. Roads are haunted by old paving, potholes and lousy drainage. While most of the scarier bridges are being fixed the state’s overall highway funding is a masquerade. It masks the huge problems on our roads, the ones we’ve already bought and are paying for every day, yet lack a cogent constituency that would scare Harrisburg out of their political pumpkin patch and make our safety and efficiency on the roadways their highest priority.
Rural Pennsylvanians are promising hellfire and brimstone to fight tolling I-80 and every driver in this state should support them. Someday if the state succeeds in the trick of tolling I-80, drivers all over this state will likely get the same treat.
Albert Paschall is Senior Fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, a non-profit educational foundation based in Harrisburg. Somedays is syndicated to leading newspapers and radio stations in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at [email protected]