Gov. Ed Rendell on Wednesday, Dec. 6, announced that Pennsylvania will solicit offers from private firms to determine the potential value of
leasing or purchasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
In anticipation of the written proposals, state lawmakers
have tapped two turnpike officials to craft a bill that would allow private
groups to buy or lease state roads, including the 537-mile turnpike.
The House and Senate Transportation panels hired a
consulting firm - led by former Turnpike Commission executive director John
Durbin - and Commissioner Timothy Carson's law firm to write legislation that
would allow lawmakers to bid out state-run roads, the Pittsburgh
Some lawmakers have suggested privatizing roadways, such as
the turnpike and Interstate 80, as another option to a proposed
12.5-cent-per-gallon increase in fuel taxes recommended in a recent report by
the state's Transportation and Funding Reform Commission to help pay for needed
road, bridge and public transit repairs. The report also recommended that
lawmakers consider selling or leasing roads.
Rendell asked private groups to express their interest in
selling or leasing roads through written proposals by Dec. 22.
"There are dozens of ideas that have been proposed over the
years, including leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Before we pursue this or
any other plan to solve the transportation crisis, we need to learn more about
the lease option and how much revenue it could generate," Rendell said in a
Among the companies that have had preliminary contact with
state officials about a possible lease deal include Macquarie Infrastructure
Group, The Associated Press reported. The Australian-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.
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.
"It is an exciting proposition to consider if we are to keep
toll rates reasonable and generate enough money to make major improvements in
our state's transportation system without burdensome tax increases," Rendell
Opponents are leery of exactly what the governor would do
with the money windfall the state would receive in a lease deal.
"While the governor may be excited, virtually every highway
user should be livid given this governor's track record of looting the highway
account for his pet political projects," said Todd Spencer, executive vice president
of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
The governor said he intends to offer a plan to the
Legislature in January for how to proceed with any proposals.
- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor