Given Gov. Corbett's unworkable pledge of no new taxes, the thoughts of regional planners and some county pols have turned to tolling local highways as a means to pay for the upkeep of roads and bridges, which rightly should be a statewide responsibility.
That thinking played out this week in the Philadelphia region, with a long-studied plan to add tolls along a heavily traveled 27-mile stretch of Route 422 that funnels commuter traffic into King of Prussia.
A presentation Monday before a state advisory panel by staffers from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission tried to sell the idea of levying a $2.65 one-way fee on 100,000 motorists who struggle each day with gridlock and bone-jarring road conditions on 422.
While it's understandable that such plans would arise from the frustration over the slow pace of highway maintenance as PennDot funding has lagged, tolling local expressways like 422 is not the way to finance the state's transportation needs.
First, it's wrong to balkanize funding for highways that are part of a statewide road network. In the case of 422, the highway's transportation benefits are shared in a real sense by the entire state since this region is so important as an economic engine.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia-area motorists are doing more than their part to help fund transportation statewide. Under a 2007 initiative that generated highway and mass-transit funds, Pennsylvania Turnpike toll increases that are borne heavily by drivers in this area were set in motion.
Another drawback of the plan is that it could create a new patronage haven in the form of a regional authority to collect and manage fees charged along 422.
That's not to say new tolls cannot be a limited part of the mix of generating the minimum $1 billion more a year needed to patch roads and forestall bridge collapses.
It still makes sense to free up PennDot funds by tolling Interstate 80, as proposed by the state, but that idea still lacks federal approval. That plan would spread the burden shouldered by turnpike users. Right now, truckers can avoid turnpike fees and the New York ports can enjoy an economic advantage over Philadelphia's.
Despite the tax-averse policies being championed by Corbett and other Republicans in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania lawmakers need to face up honestly to the state's transportation needs.
That shouldn't involve slapping tolls on urban highway corridors, as feasible as that might seem. Nor should it involve more talk of privatizing public assets - deals where investors might get a bargain at public expense.
Instead, transportation funding must be shared by all motorists - primarily through a realistically calibrated gasoline tax that would only have to rise by a few pennies to make a difference.