Carl Shaffer is closer than anybody to the issue of making Interstate 80 a toll road through Pennsylvania. His Mifflinville farm is split by I-80. And the farm was a perfect site for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau president and agribusinesses to voice opposition to place tolls on the federal highway – to pay for highway and bridge repairs.
"Tolling of I-80 will impose a terrible toll on agriculture and our food industry," says Shaffer. Tolling would hammer farmers both ways, he contends. It would cost more to get needed production inputs to farms, and add to the cost of moving products to the marketplace. "These are not costs that farmers can simply pass along."
Food processors such as Furmano Foods, could be severely impacted. Furmano Foods ships 5,000 truckloads of finished goods (or 50% of yearly production) on I-80 from its plant in Northumberland. That would put Furmano at a competitive disadvantage, says Furmano CEO David Geise.
Most of Furmano's competition servicing the New York Metro area and the Northeast market wouldn't incur extra costs. They ship by rail from California or by boat from Italy, adds Geise. The company also receives 400 loads of raw materials and vegetables via I-80. The extra toll cost is estimated at about $400,000 – about half of Furmano Food's average annual profit,
I-80 is also a major hauling route to the East and Northeast. Tolling the route would escalate shipping costs, says George Kutt, President of Valley Ag & Turf, which has six locations in central Pennsylvania.
Toll road status
The enabling state legislation has been signed into law by Governor Rendell. But it still must be approved by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters before tolling can be permitted.
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau believes a different solution to fund highways and bridges must be found – "one that fair and equitable," argues Shaffer. "Whatever solution is decided, we must be sure that building and repairing our roads and bridges doesn't damage our farm and food industry, and our state's economy," he concludes.