Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Road Toll Is For Thee

I was just checking the online version of The Times Herald, and noticed in their headlines of May 31 "Tolling of Route 422 On Agenda of Transportation Funding Commission"  that the subject of tolling on Route 422 has reared its ugly head again. I was considering writing about it when I noticed Lisa Mossie did so last week based on the Times Herald's sister publication's (Pottstown Mercury) article on the same topic. She wrote eloquently and comprehensively on the subject, which you can read here). How odd that this latest press release about 422 was offered for publication and buried in the newspaper over the Memorial Day weekend when presumably most people who'd find it of interest might be away on vacation.

As I posted last fall, I dislike this idea for several reasons, chief among them because Lower Providence already suffers substantial traffic congestion, which will only be exacerbated by cars seeking to avoid paying a toll on 422, instead routing themselves through roads inside our and other municipalities to avoid it. For us, it's definitely NOT a 'smart traffic solution'. We're already a gateway community through which motorists travel to get to other places (like Norristown, King of Prussia, Collegeville, or Philadelphia) and while I hope they  spend money here while they're coming through, none of those funds raised via tolling will be coming to Lower Providence to help us deal with infrastructure improvements inside our boundaries to support avoidance traffic.

Aside from the fact that our taxpayers already are paying money through federal and state fuel taxes and licensing fees which PennDOT themselves indicate will go toward funding road improvements on other area roads such as US 202 - and which could and should be applied to improvements on 422 - it's interesting to me that the presentation of what is referred to as the "US 422 Corridor Master Plan' (ie the tolling plan) given to our supervisors in June 2010 (for more detail on the information presented at that meeting, see the meeting minutes, Item 7, here) doesn't seem to match what its supporters are claiming now in both the Times Herald/Pottstown Mercury pubications. A year ago the presentation and discussion centered largely around funding for a commuter rail system. Now, according to the article cited above, they claim it's necessary 'above and beyond' normal state funding sources to pay for 'transportation spending' and appear to be downplaying the rail option, almost as if it's an afterthought.

Unfortunately, our sitting supervisors unanimously voted to support the US 422 Corridor Master Plan at their July 1, 2010 meeting (documented in the minutes of that meeting, Item 11, here). 24 other 422 corridor communities in Montgomery, Chester and Berks counties were also pitched the same presentation that we received, as part of what the County referred to as a 'land use transportation study'.  Of those 24 communities, I could not determine how many of them have supported the plan by resolution. Of course, the FAQs on the website claims that:

Q. The US 422 Corridor Master Plan resolution supports the idea of studying 422. If my municipality signs the resolution, are they automatically supporting tolling on US 422?

A. No. By signing this resolution, municipalities are not endorsing tolling.
While tolling is one of the options described, there are many other strategies identified in the Master Plan.

If your hometown leaders endorse the resolution, it means only that your local officials are willing to work with their community, the state, the participating counties, and other alliances to explore the 10 planning strategies outlined in the Master Plan.

Well, if you look at those 10 planning strategies as summarized in this handy-dandy brochure put together for each municipality, here, (which oh-so-thoughfully even provides a draft resolution to speed its adoption by each stakeholder muncipality), it strikes me as odd that the only 2 of the 10 I've heard discussed in any meaningful detail in  conjunction with this master plan are the supposed road improvements and the rail line. The fluff of the 10 points all sounds good, but as Ms. Mossie points out, it does seem like the underlying motive for the entire effort to toll is the "government run, public union-staffed, tax dollar subsidized public transportation system that will have absolutely no positive impact on the traffic that 422 commuters sit in every. Single. Day."

The resolution that our Board of Supervisors passed on July 1, 2010 did not carve out any of the ten options as ones they could not support. It endorsed all the 'principles and strategies' in the plan including the two which were primarily discussed, one of which was tolling 422, for however the money would ultimately be used.  In contrast, sister communities Upper Providence and Limerick Townships voted to support the plan but specifically excluded the 422 tolling provisions. As of at least September 2010, two other communities had opposed the master plan in its entirety.

Before tolling on 422 can become a reality, it needs the support of the state legislature, our governor, PennDOT and the federal Dept. of Transportation.  Our new governor has pledged that he will not raise taxes, and the argument can be made that a toll is a tax. Now is the time to contact your elected state and federal representatives and let them know where you stand on this topic, before tolling on 422 becomes a 'runaway train'.