As part of his ongoing effort to block tolls on Interstate 80, a Northwestern Pennsylvania congressman has asked for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Transportation into the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's application for the right to toll I-80.

Rep. John Peterson (R., Pa.) asked the department's inspector general to determine if the effort to toll I-80 "is in any way connected to misconduct by turnpike officials or others in an effort to protect the employment of the turnpike consultants or staff or to solicit their cooperation in obstructing any past or ongoing federal investigation."

Peterson, who is scheduled to meet with Transportation Secretary Mary Peters in Washington today, asked Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel to look into any links between the I-80 application and the federal indictment in February of State Sen. Vince Fumo (D., Phila.), a chief architect of the plan to toll I-80.

Placing tolls on I-80 was a key part of the transportation-funding law passed in Harrisburg in July to raise nearly $1 billion more a year for highways, bridges and mass transit around Pennsylvania. If the Federal Highway Administration approves the plan, tolls could be in place by 2010.

Peterson has been a leader of the opposition to tolls, which residents and businesses in northern Pennsylvania say would cripple their economy.

Fumo is close friends with Turnpike Commission chairman Mitchell Rubin, and Rubin's wife, Ruth Arnao, used to be Fumo's deputy chief of staff.

Arnao was also indicted by the federal grand jury, and the indictment mentioned Rubin as "Senate Contractor No. 5," a reference to $150,000 worth of state Senate contracts that Fumo allegedly steered to Rubin's business, requiring "little or no Senate work," according to the indictment. Rubin was not indicted.

In his letter, Peterson refers to the indictment, and without naming them, to Fumo, Rubin and Arnao.

"Individuals currently under indictment or investigation figure prominently in the design and support of the legislation that enabled the request to toll Interstate 80," Peterson wrote in the Nov. 27 letter to Scovel. "I am calling upon the OIG to contact the DOJ and the FBI and request their cooperation in determining whether there is evidence that could liken the effort to publicly fund the Turnpike with the current case the DOJ is conducting."

Peterson also wrote to Peters, on Nov. 29, asking her to suspend consideration of Pennsylvania's application to toll I-80 to give the inspector general time to investigate.

William Capone, spokesman for the Turnpike Commission, said yesterday that "we expect the Federal Highway Administration to continue its review of our application on its merits."

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.