Commission suggests I-80 tolls to block privatization in Pennsylvania

| Friday, January 12, 2007

If it was surprising that Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell received 48 letters from companies expressing interest in privatizing the state's east-west turnpike, it was even more surprising that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission submitted one of the letters.

But there's a reason the commission did that, according to recent news reports.

The five-member commission would rather not see the 537-mile Turnpike leased to private companies. Instead, commissioners are suggesting that state lawmakers authorize Interstate 80 to become a toll road and allow the commission to operate it.

Turnpike commissioners would rather see the revenue remain within the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation system and not go to the private sector.

Commissioners hired a lobbyist earlier this week to pursue that scenario, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Revenue from I-80 tolls would cut into a growing gap in funding for transportation projects - a gap that Gov. Rendell has said could be fixed by leasing the turnpike to private investors for billions of dollars.

Tolls on I-80, according to a statement by Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission CEO Joe Brimmeier, could fetch "tens of millions of dollars" per year, the Post-Gazette reported.

Commissioners say it's worth a shot. Any possible solutions for Pennsylvania would have to go through the state Legislature.

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