Pennsylvania governor unveils proposed Turnpike lease

| 4/16/2008

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is calling on state lawmakers to introduce legislation to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors.

OOIDA and other highway user groups are opposed to the plan.

Rendell’s officials released details on Wednesday, April 16, outlining terms and conditions for a 75-year lease and an up-front payment they claim could generate enough revenue to fill an annual $1.7-billion shortfall in transportation funding.

“Potential bidders will be invited to submit binding bids to the Commonwealth for the right to sign the concession agreement. Each bid must include the amount of the up-front payment being offered,” Rendell officials stated in terms released to state lawmakers in an effort to gain legislative sponsors.

Rendell favors leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike over a separate revenue-generating proposal to convert Interstate 80 into a toll road in the Keystone State.

“It is likely that such a lease would result in a payment large enough to meet the state’s investment needs – without tolling I-80,” Rendell stated in the document.

On the auction block are the Turnpike Mainline and the Northeast Extension while the Southern Beltway and the Mon-Fayette Expressway would not be leased.

If the legislation finds a sponsor and wins legislative approval, the state would technically own the roadway despite the long-term nature and the terms of such a deal.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the American Highway Users Alliance oppose private control of existing infrastructure.

“This takes away the rights of the public to weigh in on toll increases,” Greg Cohen, president of the American Highway Users Alliance told Land Line. “We’re talking about taking this out of the public domain for 75 years. It’s completely out of the hands of the people and it’s terrible policy for a short-term gain for a state with a governor who is trying to raise money.”

Cohen said highway users are on to Gov. Rendell’s battle on two fronts to generate revenue either through a turnpike lease or I-80 tolls.

“The governor is very clever,” Cohen said. “You know, we were worried that Act 44 would generate enough anger that he could come back to this, and he has.”

Act 44 is the legislation that enabled the state to seek federal tolling authority for I-80. The Federal Highway Administration has not yet granted that approval despite the application being filed in October 2007.

Cohen said the integrity of a national highway system is compromised whenever existing infrastructure is leased to the private sector.

“You lose the national highway system that has been so good to our country in terms of enabling a strong economy and a quality of life and you divide that up and take it away from the public good for a company to profit.”

– By David Tanner, staff writer