Pennsylvania ponders privatization

| 5/18/2006

Pennsylvania has joined the growing list of states interested in privatizing its highways.

Gov. Ed Rendell told reporters at a routine business function that one way to find money for mass transit, bridges and highways is through private investment in infrastructure – much like what is being done in Indiana and Illinois.

“This would be a great way to get money to put into immediate repair or construction,” Rendell told The Associated Press.

Pennsylvania lawmakers could initiate legislation in about a year, Rendell said, if they like the prospects of privatization.

Privatization could happen in two ways, either through leasing existing roadways to private investors, or contracting with investors to build new roads that would be privately operated and maintained. States would receive cash up front from the leases.

Illinois lawmakers privatized the Chicago Skyway through a 99-year, $1.8 billion lease. The proposed lease of the Indiana Toll Road for $3.85 billion is in the middle of a court challenge from truckers and Indiana residents who contend it violates the Indiana Constitution.

More than 20 states are acting on or have expressed interest in privatization, and that may only be scratching the surface.

Just this week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced that the federal government will continue to encourage public-private partnerships – including toll roads – as one way to reduce freight delays and decrease congestion.

– By David Tanner, staff writer