An electronic sign Monday on the eastbound side of U.S. Route 422 warns of lane closures due to construction work.

An electronic sign Monday on the eastbound side of U.S. Route 422 warns drivers about lane closures due to construction work.

HARRISBURG PA – Limerick (PA) Township‘s state Sen. John Rafferty, the Pennsylvania legislator whose proposed bill might someday make it feasible to impose vehicle tolls on U.S. Route 422, has raised the ire of a Missouri-based truckers’ lobbying group.

20090728-Route422Rafferty-BlockQuoteThe Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), representing 160,000 independent truck owner-operators and professional drivers in the U.S. and Canada, issued a “call to action” Friday (July 24, 2009) against what it said was a “bad bill” sponsored by Rafferty that it alleged would allow Pennsylvania roads to be privatized.

Rafferty’s bill (SB693), if approved, would enable the Pennsylvania Transportation Commission to solicit, accept, oversee and administer what are referred to as public-private partnerships to help pay for and complete improvements on Pennsylvania roads and bridges. A similar bill offered by Rafferty last year passed the state Senate but died in the House.

The proposal is seen by advocates of the U.S. 422 Corridor Master Plan, developed and now being promoted by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), as a key legal component in the future of transportation improvements along the federal highway, part of which stretches 25 miles from King of Prussia PA to Reading PA.

Leo Bagley.

Leo Bagley.

During public meetings last month in Pottstown and Royersford to discuss the future of 422, Montgomery County (PA) Planning Department Assistant Director Leo Bagley said Rafferty’s bill would be important in ensuring that money from tolls collected in the corridor was dedicated to its transportation projects and could not be re-directed elsewhere.

The prospect of requiring drivers to pay tolls to travel 422, which currently is free, has become a hot-button issue among some motorists. The idea was floated when the master plan was released several months ago. The DVRPC reasons that tolls would be a consistent source of revenue to generate the hundreds of millions of dollars for projects it foresees as needed to avoid present and future traffic congestion.

Specifically, the proposal lets state government and local transportation authorities partner with private groups to fund the design, construction, maintenance and management of state and local roads, bridges, and related infrastructure. One such “authority” might be akin to a Route 422 governing body, Bagley said June 23 (2009).

“They have got to be kidding!,” the OOIDA’s action alert protested. The Pennsylvania Transportation Commission “would make decisions on things that should be in the hands of elected officials. Not only is this an awful idea, but there are definite questions about the constitutionality of such a maneuver,” it claimed.

The lobbying group also charged the state had squandered infrastructure money with “wasteful and abusive spending by (the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation) PennDOT and the Turnpike Authority.” It did not elaborate.

The Rafferty bill pointedly excludes the Pennsylvania Turnpike from its provisions unless the Legislature rules otherwise. In fact, the bill as currently written affects only those portions of highways that would expanded or improved under partnership agreements. Agreements are considered in the bill as one form of “alternative funding mechanisms.”

Rafferty’s 44th Senatorial District covers portions of Montgomery, Chester and Berks (PA) counties, and includes Lower Pottsgrove and Limerick Townships, and the boroughs of Royersford and Pottstown. The senator was attending legislative sessions Monday (July 27, 2009) and was unable to return calls requesting his comment.

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