HARRISBURG -- The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission on Monday rolled out a plan to spend about $250 million a year from Interstate 80 toll collections to repair the highway's surface, rebuild its bridges and perform other construction.
The commission's plan is part of a revised application for permission to toll I-80 that is expected to be submitted to federal regulators next month. If approved, the commission expects tolls to be in place in late summer 2010.
The $250 million annual figure is about four times what the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation currently spends on capital improvements to the 311-mile highway that stretches across Pennsylvania between Ohio and New Jersey, turnpike officials said.
An assessment of the interstate showed that more than half its length has not been repaved since it was built some 40 years ago. Also, the assessment revealed that 16 bridges are structurally deficient and 69 are functionally obsolete.
Over the first decade, the commission plans to rebuild or rehabilitate 105 miles of I-80, replace 62 of its bridges -- including all four with less than 15 feet of clearance -- and complete a $179 million connection to Interstate 99 outside State College.
Project manager Barry J. Schoch said it will cost about $60 million to build a cashless "open road" tolling system in which a driver without E-ZPass will have his or her license plate photographed, generating a mailed-out bill for the vehicle owner. That technology is not currently used on any U.S. highway, he said.
Drivers with E-ZPass, the electronic toll-payment system in use across the Northeast, will see tolls automatically deducted from their accounts. The proposed locations of toll collection sites, a topic of keen interest to the people who live along the highway, are expected to be disclosed next month, Schoch said.
Planners have toyed with various scenarios of where to put as many as 10 tolling locations, and estimate that about a third of local automobile traffic will get on and off the interstate without having to pay a toll. The projections exclude trucks and through traffic.
"This might be a prototype of the way interstates are tolled in the future," Schoch said.
Schoch said planners are considering whether to add truck climbing lanes on portions of the interstate, and to widen the shoulder in places to allow roadwork to be performed without having to narrow traffic to a single lane.
Under a state transportation law passed last summer, the turnpike would lease I-80 from PennDOT for 50 years. The tolls are projected to bring the state about $1 billion a year in the first decade, rising to about $2.6 billion annually in the deal's final years.
The money would be spent on transportation needs around the state, including highway maintenance and repair.