BRIDGEVILLE, Pa. (KDKA) - Three South Hills communities along Interstate 79 are planning to file a lawsuit against PennDOT over a plan to impose a toll to pay for bridge repairs.
As political editor Jon Delano has learned, the suit alleges the state failed to follow its own procedures in approving the plan and the communities want it stopped in its tracks.
When PennDOT announced a plan to toll Interstate 79 in the Bridgeville area to pay for bridge repairs, it came as a huge shock to residents, local businesses and officials.
It turns out nobody at the state consulted with them, at least that is what the lawsuit is alleging.
"We were all blindsided by it at the end of January, beginning of February," said state Sen. Devlin Robinson, a Bridgeville Republican. "And they were just announced, and there were no reasons given on why these bridges were chosen."
In a lawsuit to be filed in Commonwealth Court by Bridgeville, Collier, and South Fayette, municipal officials say PennDOT and the Public Private Transportation Partnership, known as P3, failed to follow its own procedures.
First, the suit claims they never consulted with the affected parties. Robinson said the local impact still hasn't been studied.
"Last spring, I specifically asked if secondary route studies were done, and the PennDOT secretary told me yes, they were. When I asked the PennDOT secretary to send those studies over to me, she said, 'sorry, I misspoke. I didn't do them,'" said Robinson.
"And we're still waiting on those studies to be done and turned into the legislature," he added.
Second, the lawsuit claims that the P3 Board never specifically authorized any of the nine bridge toll projects last November. Instead, P3 approved a general resolution for PennDOT to act, which the communities allege, gave no notice to the public and violated the law.
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"They never checked with the legislature to say what bridges were under consideration for the project," said Robinson.
South Fayette commissioners held an executive session on Wednesday to discuss the lawsuit.
Robinson said this whole process is suspect because it was also, as the lawsuit suggests, designed to keep the legislature from knowing and stopping the project.
"What's to stop PennDOT from continuing to toll all the bridges from West Virginia up to Erie?" asks the senator.
The three communities are asking the Commonwealth Court to rule that the P3 Board and PennDOT failed to follow proper procedures and to halt temporarily and then permanently the I-79 bridge toll project.
Local officials are expected to announce the lawsuit on Thursday afternoon.
No comment yet from PennDOT.
Sources also tell KDKA that several other communities, including Cecil, Peters, South Strabane and Upper St. Clair, have also considered suing, but are not part of this lawsuit.
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