House committee chairman stalls Pennsylvania Turnpike lease

| 7/7/2008

Gov. Ed Rendell’s proposed lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike has stalled and is effectively dead according to House Transportation Committee Chairman Joseph Markosek, D-Allegheny-Wesmoreland.

Markosek announced Friday, July 4, that he does not plan to call a committee vote on proposed legislation, HB2593, to authorize the lease.

“There is no realistic scenario under which this deal will happen, and I have informed the governor, my colleagues and the Abertis/Citi team that we need to move on,” Markosek stated in a press release.

Private investors Abertis Infraestructuras of Spain and a subsidiary of New York-based Citibank bid $12.8 billion in mid-May to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike for 75 years.

Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, and Rep. Steven Cappelli, R-Lycoming, introduced HB2593 a short time later to authorize the governor to execute the lease. The House Transportation Committee had a two-day public hearing June 26-27 to discuss the Evans-Cappelli bill.

Markosek stated that HB2593 lacked support in the committee, but said alternatives could include public-private partnerships for highways other than the turnpike.

Mike Joyce, senior government affairs representative for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, pointed out that Markosek was a major player in getting legislation known as Act 44 passed in 2007. That act authorizes the conversion of Interstate 80 into a toll road.

“We applaud the fact that he’s taken a stand against selling or leasing the turnpike, but we have to be a bit cautious about how loudly we applaud,” Joyce told Land Line.

“We have to remember that the chairman is also protecting a bill that he drafted in Act 44, and that bill still exists. We would still like to see the provision to toll I-80 repealed. We would like to see the state Legislature move forward without leasing the turnpike or tolling I-80, and by making some difficult choices about how current money is being spent and prioritized in the Capitol of Harrisburg.”

Even without tolls on I-80, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is scheduled to receive $350 million per year from a turnpike toll increase. If the Federal Highway Administration authorizes tolling on I-80, the amount paid to the state DOT would increase to more than $1 billion per year.

– By David Tanner, staff writer