Route 422 as a campaign issue for the State House 157 Drucker – Kampf race . . . a curious website notolls422.com surfaces . . . and thoughts from John Petersen

I received the following op-ed, ‘Support of tolling of Route 422 – and political courage’ from John Petersen.  The opinion article will appear as a ‘As I see It’ in this week’s edition of Main Line Suburban newspaper.  I recently discovered the website, notolls422.com and was confused.  It is my understanding that the plans that are being discussed for Rt. 422 include 22 municipalities but in review of the website, it would appear that the proposed land development project only involved areas of the Pennsylvania State House 157 jurisdiction.  There are many communities involved in the discussion of the 422 project, the majority of which are north of our community.  Exploring the notolls422 website, I could not determine who was responsible for the website or specific contact information.  In reading Mr. Petersen’s article, it would suggest that he similarly has questions and offers his own thoughts on the subject.  Very interesting.

Support of tolling of Route 422 – and political courage
By John Petersen

To follow this argument will require some insight into logic. To begin this argument, I’ll start with a premise that I believe we can accept as fact – Route 422 has been and is a mess when it comes to traffic and gridlock. The 422 corridor that runs from Valley Forge (where 422, 202 and 76 intersect) all the way to Reading has seen massive commercial and residential growth over the past 30 years. And in that time, the road has remained unchanged with respect to the capacity it can handle. If you are not sure as to the veracity of this fact, travel westbound in the morning and look at the line of traffic. If you happen to be near the King of Prussia Mall around 4:30-5 on any weekday, you will see the gridlock spilling over to 76. Unfortunately 422 has become a bit of a political football. Here are two examples: notolls422.com and twitter.com/WarrenKampf/status/11965252784.

If you accept the premise that everything is a-OK with 422 and that we should remain with the status quo, then I dare say you are living in bizarro-world. Moving forward with the notion that something has to be done with 422, we then need to move on to the discussion of funding. There are basically three approaches, none of which are mutually exclusive: taxes, tolls and/or some type of public/private partnership (which is really just a euphemistic way of saying new taxes). The problem with taxes is that they are levied on everyone. Taxes go into a central bureaucratic pit. From there we have no clue as to where the funds go. Taxes are the mother’s milk of big government. That said, some level of taxation is required and ideally a government levies not one penny more in taxes than it needs. Another thing I think we can all agree on is that we are far from ideal taxation – whether it be local, state or federal taxes. Relative to what is levied, there is an impedance mismatch between what we pay and the services that are rendered. Taxing as the funding source for dealing with the 422 problem aggravates a problem that is getting worse.

On the other hand there is tolling. Tolling actually represents a very conservative idea. If you use a service, you then have to pay for that service. In the 157th race, we are confronted with a situation wherein Rep. Paul Drucker, the Democratic candidate, is advancing tolling, among many other ideas, for dealing with the 422 problem. Warren Kampf, the Republican candidate, has not advanced a position other than numerous tweets about door-knocking and simply being against what Rep. Drucker and the Chester County Planning Commission have suggested. It should be noted that tolling is one of many suggestions that are on the table. You can read the details of the 422 Corridor Master Plan yourself by following the following link: www.422corridor.com/page/us-422-master-plan.

What we need from our elected officials are alternatives – not feel-good statements that are motivated by election politics. We need officials who exercise political courage such that ideas that may not seem popular are not summarily taken off the table. Elected officials are duty-bound to consider all ideas. They are also duty-bound to consider the opinions of their constituency. What we don’t need are politicians who take the position of not having a position that leads to doing nothing. If that is all we needed from elected officials, then I dare say that a rock would suffice for our duly elected officials. A rock is equally capable of doing nothing.

The last several years in Tredyffrin Township have been dominated by election politics and questionable decision-making by some of our locally elected officials. One of those officials, Warren Kampf, is seeking to unseat our current state representative, Paul Drucker. It just so happens that 422 cuts through a portion of the 157th Legislative District. If there was an issue where we needed definite guidance on where candidates and elected officials stand, 422 is it. What we cannot have is election politics hijacking the conversation. Any candidate who does not have a definitive stance on how to deal with the 422 problem is, in my opinion, not qualified to hold an elected office that would be concerned with 422. With that, I encourage Mr. Kampf to get off the sidelines and join the conversation.

I have one last point that deals with the notolls422.com site. This site is precisely the problem with election politics I have cited. When I first saw the site, I was somewhat amused by the fact that the author cites the horrors that toll booths would inflict on 422. Here’s a news flash – it’s not 1955 anymore. We have something called EZ-Pass. If you go to the Washington, D.C. area or central Texas, you find modern roadways that can automatically levy the tolls and in some cases can adjust the tolls based on the time of day – peak vs. non-peak. While there may be some good guess, unfortunately, we don’t know the precise identity of the notolls422.com owner. Sadder still, sites like notolls422.com degrade the signal-to-noise ratio in these conversations. Sites like this do not advance the discussion one iota. My hope is the Kampf campaign has nothing to do with the site. It may be that the true owner will have to surface to clear things up. To the GOP that may find that such a site is OK, I have two words for you – Mr. Tredyffrin!

Tolls can be very effective. They have worked well for the PA Turnpike. The nice thing is that tolls are levied against those who use the road. What could be more elegant? And further, what could be more conservative? Let’s have an open and honest discussion about all of the alternatives. Yes, that includes taxes and the public/private partnership. My guess is that the latter will not pass muster. Regardless, let’s have the conversation. And finally, let’s encourage the candidates that it is OK to suggest alternatives. In any scenario, 100 percent of the people are not going to agree on 100 percent of the issues.

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8 Comments

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  1. As much as I hate to admit it, I actually AGREE with much of what John writes in this letter;). As far as funding, tolls should be considered and his point that the improvements would be paid for by 422’s users is an application of classic conservative principles. I’d like to see more examples of roads that collect all of their tolls with “Fast Pass” lanes plus mailing a bill to those that don’t have a tag – the cost of collection would eat in to a modest $2 toll.

    Also, I like, “a government levies not one penny more in taxes than it needs.” Though, people differ on what the government “needs”.

    Can’t end without the requisite Kampf flogging. As Chet said on another thread “good info, the WHACK”.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Appreciate your comments John and Mike. If there is a more efficient way to do it, they do it in Texas…. everything is about innovation. (Had a bad check writing system tied to driver’s license ID number — worked seamlessly so writing checks could happen anywhere).

    Anyway — Lived in Dallas Texas for 10+ years John. During that time, new roads were built (quickly — right to work) and tolls in place — until the road was paid for — and then the toll booths came down. Reason: no seasonal issues creating potholes…so gas taxes were clearly adequate to maintain the road system.

    So while there are more efficient ways of collecting tolls, the reality for PA is that it’s a crumbling state….and the process for building (e.g., the Blue Route) is eternal and repairing is continuing. The improvements required will cost 3 times what they would cost if we had maintenance planning done long-range instead of “what can we afford to do next?” With everything so highly politicized, it’s always going to be 4 years at a time at the most….hardly long range or strategic.

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  2. MIke, forget about the tolls which one can argue will make traffic worse, what that roadway needs is significant widening and better access ramps that will ease flow at high volume times. Is that possible? I am a skeptic for sure, just ask anyone on this board who thinks I’m a knee jerk no new taxes Republican ( I could be called worse than that!) but with all taxes now being paid ostensibly for roadway maintenance, can I be skeptical that there should be money in the coffers, or another way,(bonds?) to pay for improvements on 422? Maybe when the road is improved and traffic flows THEN tollbooths can be put in place, EZ pass or tag like tolls to keep the flow going and still generate revenue from USERS of the road? Am I making sense? Chet

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  3. Chet:

    The point you make about is one I made on the earlier 422 thread, which John scoffed at – there is simply too much volume for the road, i.e.. it needs more lanes and better ramps to improve the traffic flow. The tolling question adresses how to pay for the expense, estimated in the 422 report at about $450 million. Like you, I am not aware of the system that Mr. Petersen describes – he says in Texas and Washington, D.C. area (while the Dulles Toll Road has “fast pass”, they also have cash lanes – it gets congested at the toll plazas). What you gain with more lanes could be offset with loss due to toll collection.

    BTW, with EZ Pass having been around in this area for 10 years or so, there are sure alot of people in the cash lanes whenever I travel bridges and toll roads – wonder if anyone knows the market penetration for EZ pass tags?

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  4. C-470 in Denver is terrific – no toll booths or even an EZ Pass system and no need to slow down – just high tech monitors that read your license plate and bill you for the tolls monthly. I understand that all outstanding bills must be paid in order to renew your vehicle registration every year.

    When I rent a car, the company just charges my credit card when it receives the bill. Of course, Colorado’s objective is to improve traffic flow – not to provide jobs for toll collectors.

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  5. Tolls in general are a terrible idea. Really, its extremely inefficient, causes traffic, tons of extra pollution, and wastes human resources (people collecting tolls and the legions of administrative people behind them, could all be doing something productive).

    If you want a fair way of raising money for roads that avoids all of the previously mentioned problems, just do it with a general gas tax, and figure out a way (state level) to distribute the funds to roads projects everywhere in the state. A gas tax does not slow down traffic and has almost no administrative overhead, and best of all, it is proportional to the amount you drive on ALL roads, and encourages people to choose more efficient vehicles. I really think its the best solution.

    I am currently already paying over $1500 a year in turnpike tolls, I cringe at the thought of tolls on 422 in addition to that!

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  6. *** “The key is how to fund the necessary improvements. What we know is that Drucker is making suggestions and Kampf is making none.” ***

    Actually, Mr. Drucker suggested tolling 422 to pay for the Schuylkill Valley Metro, a $2.2 Billion project to bring rail service from Reading to Norristown. Drucker never talked about 422 improvements/maintenance until AFTER he got flak for supporting tolls on 422.

    Revisionist history and political games can’t hide the facts of what he told The Reporter back in April — and that was tolls for the SVM project.

    Finally, while perpetuating this falsehood that Mr. Drucker wants tolls for maintenance or improvement, Mr. Petersen likes to claim 422 tolls would be used to maintain 422 like the Turnpike does. But there is a HUGE difference — the Turnpike is a separate entity that controls the money it collects.

    Tolls on 422 would go into the state’s general or transportation funds and could be used ANYWHERE across the state for ANYTHING…which means Mr. Drucker’s 422 toll money is just as likely to be spent in Philadelphia’s schools as it is on 422 improvements.

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    Township Reader Reply:

    Isn’t Paul voting for that similar to Warren voting against the sewer fee increase? Is it political expediency or courage of convictions??? For who — and for what.
    It’s how you vote when your vote counts that matters…..(not opening a St. Davids discussion I hope!)

    [Reply]

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