Privatization of Pennsylvania Turnpike pitched

| Monday, November 27, 2006

A pair of prominent politicians in Pennsylvania separately pitched the idea of leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private group to generate revenue for transportation projects.

Among the companies that have contacted state officials about a possible lease deal include Macquarie Infrastructure Group, The Associated Press reported. The Austrian-based group has been involved in similar deals in at least a handful of other states, including this year's $3.8 billion, 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road.

Gov. Ed Rendell said the value of such a long-term lease in Pennsylvania is estimated between $3 billion and $10 billion. At the same time, House Speaker John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, said an investors' group told him that privatizing the turnpike could mean as much as $30 billion for the state.

"I'm not saying you could get that - but if you could and if you get 10 percent return on your money, that'll be $3 billion a year" for roads and transit, Perzel told The Associated Press. "If we can get that kind of a figure, that's something that absolutely has to be looked at."

The revelations by the Democratic governor and House speaker come on the heels of a special panel in Pennsylvania that recommended roughly $1.7 billion in tax increases to help pay for needed road, bridge and public transit repairs.

The nine-member commission, which was set up by Rendell, recommends that the road improvements be funded through a 12.5-cent-per-gallon increase in fuel taxes and an increase in annual motor vehicle registration or driver license fees.

For public transit, the commission recommends a combination of state and local taxes.

Perzel predicted lawmakers aren't likely to agree to a boost in the state's fuel tax rate for needed transportation projects. Instead, he said a long-term lease of the 537-mile turnpike might be more viable.

Rendell said he is "very interested" in leasing the turnpike as an alternative to higher taxes. He expects the leasing idea to be "a key point" in the transportation debate when lawmakers convene the 2007 session in January.

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