PennDOT hears concerns on toll debate

The debate over the state’s interstate bridge tolling project took another turn this week during a couple of hearings held by the state that addressed the project’s impact on I-80 in both Clarion and Jefferson counties.

In Clarion County on Wednesday evening, a proposed traffic circle at the intersection of Routes 322 and 66 in Paint Township, designed to reduce congestion, drew criticism from the people attending the hearing at the Wolf’s Den restaurant in Knox.

According to PennDOT, roundabouts improve safety as the agency cited a 90% reduction in fatalities, a 70% reduction in injuries, a 35% reduction in all crashes, and the slower speeds make pedestrian routes safer.

In addition, PennDOT said roundabouts reduce congestion, pollution and fuel consumption, along with saving money on power because no signal equipment is used.

“Why do they keep wanting to spend more money that will allow them to tax people more. It’s insane,” Clarion County Commissioner Wayne Brosius said. A roundabout has to be $4 million or $5 million. This is a lot of money just to allow them to place a toll on citizens.”

Brosius said he has spoken “with a lot of people” about the tolling issue and only one individual is in favor of the plan.

“For several years (Canoe Creek) was on the Transportation Improvement Plan,” he said. “The money was allocated for these bridges and then, out of the blue, it was decided that we need tolls to rebuild these bridges.”

John Stroup, a member of the Clarion Area Chamber of Business & Industry, said the revenue realized by the tolls collected on one bridge would be $5.5 million a year.

“You (PennDOT) have a payback here in roughly four years,” he said. “What is the revenue for nine (interstate) bridges (statewide)? I have not seen that. Where is that revenue going? The dollars collected here will be going somewhere else. That is a deep concern of mine.”

State Sen. Scott Hutchinson said, “This another example of government breaking its promise. Interstate 80 was built as a freeway and that promise is being broken.”

He said the diversion routes would cause structural damage to buildings along those routes.

“It is an unaccounted for negative side effect,” Hutchinson said. “We live in a low income region. Our ability to retain and attract jobs will be negatively impacted.”

State Rep. Donna Oberlander said the diversion routes would impact emergency services. The volunteer personnel responds to accidents on I-80 “without complaint or funding from PennDOT,” and would have to deal with additional incidents on roads “that are not built for that traffic.”

Oberlander said she was informed the proposed roundabout at Routes 322 and 66 was only for diversion of traffic and not for an accident.

“When we have an accident on I-80, they are backed up for miles,” she said. “I am told the roundabout will slow traffic down. It will be at a standstill when an accident happens.”

Todd Griffith, general manager of Penn West Homes, said all of his trucks would need to find alternate routes to arrive to their destinations.

“It is not safe to put houses this size in our small communities,” he said. “I know projects like this cost money. I am just asking that you find it somewhere else.”

Shippenville Borough Council member Paul Woodburn said if the bridges were to be tolled, people would find a way to get off the interstate and find a way around the toll.

“When there is an accident on 80, it is bumper-to-bumper traffic all day long,” he said. “Our roads won’t last. Will PennDOT help us to repair them? The roads will be torn up and that makes our towns more dangerous.”

People testifying at Castle Do’argy event hall in Brookville on Tuesday evening were concerned about the impact on Dr. Walter Dick Memorial Park and the Historic Main Street District.

PennDOT said the park, which is located below the North Fork bridges, will be impacted because permanent right of way is needed for new pier locations, but no active recreation areas will be permanently impacted. However, a portion of a nature trail will need to be relocated on the eastern side of North Fork Redbank Creek.

Jarred Heuer, executive Director of the Clarion County Economic Development Corp. and a member of a multi-county, anti-bridge tolling group, said the proposed diversion route would bring 1,200 vehicles through downtown Brookville every day. He said that would impact the economic viability of the downtown.

Arthur McKinley, a member of the Brookville Area Chamber of Commerce, said construction of the new bridges would have a permanent impact on Dr. Walter Dick Park and expressed concern over noise that would accompany a higher volume of truck traffic through Brookville.

“This affects our quality of life,” he said.

Jefferson County Commissioner Scott North advocated for a toll-forgiveness plan for local residents.

“This way, we will avoid the impact on local men and women on a daily basis,” he said. “We should consider local exemptions.”

Brookville Borough Council member David Taylor said he reviewed several maps for the project and saw “area of potential impact” listed just one landmark was located on the map of Brookville — the Jefferson County History Center.

“Brookville has been a 100-acre National Register Historical District since 1984,” he said. “I would suggest if this map fails to show that historic site, I might ask what else is not shown as well.”

Taylor said the amount of traffic would have an adverse affect on the Historic District.

“I suggest we look at other geographic areas to toll,” he said.

Brookville Borough Council Vice President Karen Allgeier described the community as a “small borough” that doesn’t have the “people or money” to fill potholes that would be caused by truck traffic.

“We need to look at this further to see what the actual impact will be on Brookville,” she said.

The project would also require the replacement of the Jenks Street and the Richardsville Road bridges. Jenks Street is a primary route to Brookville High School and Hickory Grove Elementary School.