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In 422 Tolling, Planners Say, Studying Doesn’t Make It So

Drivers on 422 west in Limerick approach its Sanatoga PA interchange.

PHILADELPHIA PA – Just studying the prospect of collecting fees from drivers who travel U.S. Route 422 “does not mean … tolls are inevitable,” according to Natasha Manbeck, Chester County’s director of transportation services. She acknowledged this week, though, that researchers for the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission’s (DVRPC) 422plus Project are still “looking hard at the possibility.“

Manbeck’s comments are contained in a 1,972-word press release distributed Wednesday (Nov. 3, 2010) by DVRPC to media outlets.

The document is notable not only for its exceptional length – few articles in popular magazines exceed more than 1,000 words – but also for its tone. In some paragraphs it quotes 422plus members as saying no decisions on tolling have yet been made; in other paragraphs, the same members discuss how toll collection could be implemented and justified.

The 422plus team is charged by DVRPC with determining the fate of the four-lane highway corridor that stretches between King of Prussia and Reading PA. Results of its studies aren’t expected until early 2011. But in what may be a signal flare of announcements to come, agency Communications and Public Affairs Director Candace Snyder wrote that, as the group looks deeper into finding funds for the road’s improvement, “the less money there seemed to be.”

“We simply have no funding to improve and maintain our infrastructure or to provide additional capacity to address the congestion,” Manbeck agreed.

The future of 422, and an accompanying proposal to impose tolls along its length to pay for changes intended to relieve what Synder described as “horrendous traffic delays,” have been hot-button public issues for months. The possibility of tolling a road that many drivers have long considered free is “easily the most controversial subject” being examined by 422plus members, she noted.

The team, consisting of representatives from all counties and mass transit organizations involved in the corridor, has frequently contended that a decrease in government appropriations, the current recession, and a drop in gasoline taxes because cars have become more fuel-efficient make it harder to raise the amount of money required to ease 422’s almost daily back-ups and slowness.

DVRPC reports that 45,000 motor vehicles travel 422 through Pottstown daily, and about 110,000 cross the Schuylkill River using the 422 bridge near Trooper.

Current funding trends nationwide indicate communities will have to be more self-reliant in the future, DVRPC Deputy Director Don Shanis added. His agency’s projections on finding sufficient cash to satisfy the region’s many transportation needs, he said, show “those funds will never be there. So it’s incumbent upon people who want their transportation system to be better to start generating some funds to do that.”

“Tolling is one option. Is it the only answer? It may not be,” conceded Berks County transportation planner Alan Piper. “Will it actually happen? We’ll have to find out. That’s the point of this study,” he said.

If it does, according to Leo Bagley, assistant director of Montgomery County’s Planning Commission, expect it to be by high-tech means. He cited increased reliance on electronic systems similar to EZPass to virtually collect fees from drivers. “The industry is going away from toll plazas. All they do is create more congestion,” Bagley said.

All cited in the release concur that failing to address 422’s problems “is not an option,” particularly because future employers may decide its congestion is too cumbersome and opt to locate elsewhere. “You’re wasting fuel, it’s costing your business in terms of delay in delivering products and services, and in general there’s a cost to your quality of life … waiting for traffic to move,” Piper said. “Sitting on 422 doesn’t pay for anybody.”

Related (to U.S. Route 422 Corridor planning):

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