Monday, July 21, 2008

McCracken for Congress -- Weekly Update -- July 20th, 2008

Reiterating My OPPOSITION to Tolling I-80 as PA Turnpike Commission Reveals Plans to Spend I-80 Toll Money

This week the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission released details of their plans to repair Interstate 80 using the funds generated from tolls paid by users of the highway. It was stated by the Turnpike Commission and their consultants that "An assessment of the interstate showed that more than half its length has not been repaved since it was built some 40 years ago". In press accounts, Barry J. Schoch, identified as Project Manager, also detailed plans to build a "cashless open road tolling system" that will utilize the EZ Pass system to collect a portion of the tolls. Mr. Schoch also described how vehicles not equipped with EZ Pass will have their tolls collected saying "a driver without E-ZPass will have his or her license plate photographed, generating a mailed-out bill for the vehicle owner". He also stated that this non EZ Pass system "is not currently used on any U.S. highway."

As a county commissioner in a county that is on the I-80 corridor I have been, and remain, strongly OPPOSED to the tolling of I-80. The press barrage this past week from the Turnpike Commission only serves to make me more skeptical of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's decision, via legislation known as Act 44, to turn the operation of Interstate 80 over to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

There are many disturbing aspects of this week's announcement. First, the statement that "An assessment of the interstate showed that more than half its length has not been repaved since it was built some 40 years ago", I find ridiculous. Anyone who regularly traveled I-80 over the last 40 years knows that annual maintenance is done to the roadway for at least 9 out of the 12 months each year. I also find it hard to believe that there are portions more than "half it's length" that have not been repaved since I-80 was built. How often do travelers on I-80 deal with lanes being shutdown for months at a time or the infamous "rumble strips" before the abrupt crossovers that lead to miles and miles of 2 way traffic separated by concrete barriers. These stretches of crossovers and 2 way traffic are typically done while the other lane is completely torn up and replaced.

I also find the "cashless open road tolling system" to be a major concern. It sounds to me like the Turnpike Commission is trying to move toward privatizing the collection of tolls. If I were an employee working collecting tolls on the existing Pennsylvania Turnpike, I would be very interested to know what future plans the executives at the Turnpike Commission have for "cashless open road tolling systems". I also have grave concerns about any government entity tracking the movements of our free citizens. Isn't this what they did in the former USSR?

It is clear that Harrisburg still isn't listening to the citizens, businesses and elected leaders from the I-80 corridor. How many times do we have to state "NO TOLLS ON I-80" before they get the message? Rural counties that rely on Interstate 80 as the only route to deliver commerce to and from our counties have designed our economic development and tourism promotion plans, both long and short range, around a toll free I-80. In many situations we are at a disadvantage and this ill conceived plan just adds to our problems.

While I was optimistic that the US Department of Transportation could put a stop to this plan, I found the following quote from an AP story dated June 27th 2008 from US Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters. When questioned about giving approval to tolling I-80, Secretary Peters said "If that's the decision that state leaders make, then I think we should be in a position to support that or allow them to make that decision," Peters said, according to The Patriot-News of Harrisburg. "I do not think the federal government should make that decision."

FEC Second Quarter Reports Filed -- Fundraising Goals Met:

July 15th was the deadline for the FEC Second Quarter Financial reports for all candidates running for federal office. Campaign Treasurer Tim Fannin filed our reports electronically on Monday July 14th and the reports were up for public review late that day. I want to stress the goals the campaign committee set for the second quarter reports were met. As a campaign team, we wanted to make sure that we raised funds that would allow us to conduct all campaign activities necessary over the summer months. That goal was easily achieved and we have been able to purchase all the campaign materials necessary to hand out to voters including campaign badges, lapel stickers, pens, magnetic bumper stickers, balloons and about a ton of candy for the parades. We've also been able to travel all over the district and have had several successful "Meet the Candidate" events. I want to give special recognition to Campaign Chair Henry Guthrie and his wife Molly, fundraising consultant Keith Bierly and Centre County Coordinator Tim Wilson for their hard work and dedication during the second quarter.

While we met our goals and we are able to do the summer events, I need to stress to everyone that the campaign needs your help in raising money for the fall campaign. We have the best message, the best ideas and the best people working on the campaign -- but it will mean nothing if we are unable to run a competitive media campaign in the fall. 2008 is a year of great promise and opportunity, we just have to pull together and get the job done.

Weekly Review:

Tuesday and Wednesday were County Fair Days. On Tuesday evening, Kelly, Amanda and I attended the Jefferson County Fair and Wednesday afternoon we made the long trip to Hughesville for the Lycoming County Fair. Wednesday in Lycoming County was very hot but we spoke with a number of people while working about 4 hours at the Lycoming County Democratic Committee booth.

Our campaign events in Clearfield and Tioga counties this week went very well. Thursday night in Clearfield we had a good turnout for the dinner. I had the chance to speak with the people who turned out and we had some very good feedback about the campaign.

On Friday, Henry Guthrie, Tim Wilson and I traveled to Hills Creek State Park in Tioga County to attend a picnic event organized by Ann Gazda, Sarah Davis, Bonnie Kyofski and Jean Leibatt. Everyone had a great time and I got the chance to speak with group and did a Q & A session were we talked about gas and oil prices, wind power, public education issues and other issues of concern in Tioga County. This was my 7th trip up to Tioga County and I really enjoy seeing the people up there.

Photo from the Tioga County Picnic

NOTE -- We postponed the Sunday reception in Lock Haven, Clinton County until a later date.

Mark B. McCracken
Your Candidate for Congress

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