By Joseph M. Hoeffel
Route 422 needs fixing. Rush-hour traffic overwhelms the highway twice every weekday between King of Prussia and Pottstown, and continuing to watch as it approaches gridlock is not an option. We have to take steps that will ease traffic, boost productivity, and protect public safety.
Unlike the Schuylkill Expressway and I-95, which cannot be easily widened, 422 is fixable. The problem is a bottleneck at the Schuylkill crossing in Valley Forge, where a second bridge over the river is needed. That and additional widening would allow the regional road network to function properly. (Traffic studies show that only a quarter of morning traffic on 422 continues to Philadelphia, while another quarter disburses in the King of Prussia area and the rest goes north or south on Route 202.)
Unfortunately, though, there isn't enough state or federal money for the job. The state has budgeted $250 million for the Route 422 corridor over the next decade, but transportation experts agree that $750 million is needed. And nobody believes the legislature or Congress will provide that kind of funding anytime soon.
Without a new funding source, 422 will not be fixed for at least 30 years, according to projections by the state Department of Transportation. By that time, the highway will be gridlocked for much of the day.
This week, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission presented a study on the possibility of Route 422 tolls to the governor's Transportation Funding Advisory Commission. It calls for an all-electronic system using E-ZPass readers and cameras on overhead gantries, with no tollbooths.
The tolls would be set at 11 cents a mile, which is the rate in effect on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. A one-way trip from King of Prussia past Pottstown would cost $2.65. Many short trips would occur between the toll locations and therefore would not be subject to tolls.
Over a number of years, those modest tolls would generate $800 million, which could support bonds issued by a new tri-county authority. The financing would pay for a second bridge, road widening, repairs, improved connections with local roads, and restored commuter rail service between Norristown and Reading.
What we raise here should stay here. A critical element of the planning commission's proposal is that none of the toll revenue would go to the state. It would all be spent by the new authority within the 422 corridor.
Would the public be willing to pay tolls for a road that is currently "free"? Since Route 422 is essentially not working for much of the week right now, I believe the answer is yes.
But this proposal will need the support of business and political leaders, as well as the driving public. And it will require legislative action in Harrisburg and three counties - Montgomery, Chester, and Berks. With leadership from the governor, the legislature, and the county commissions, we can control our region's transportation destiny.