Rendell says Pennsylvania Turnpike lease again a possibility

| 7/27/2007

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell says a plan to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors is back on.

Rendell issued the statement in response to a U.S. House vote Wednesday, July 25, to approve an appropriations bill that contained an amendment prohibiting federal funds from being used to convert Interstate 80 into a toll road in the Keystone State.

“If this amendment becomes law it will cut transportation funding statewide and so we must immediately begin contingency planning,” Rendell stated in a press release following the House vote Wednesday. “Accordingly, I have little choice but to restart the process to establish procedures for receiving bids for a long-term lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.”

Financial advisors in Pennsylvania previously determined that the state had a transportation budget shortfall of $1.75 billion per year. The advisors said Pennsylvania has 6,000 deficient bridge structures and 8,500 miles of roads in need of repair.

Rendell, a Democrat, proposed a budget in February that included a private lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to increase revenue, but scrapped the plan in June in favor of a proposal to place tolls on I-80 and keep the turnpike under state control.

Two U.S. representatives from Pennsylvania, John E. Peterson and Phil English – both Republicans – successfully added an amendment to House appropriations bill HR3074 to block federal funds being used to toll I-80.

Peterson said he was concerned that revenue from an I-80 toll road would be diverted to bail out mass transit programs in Pennsylvania cities while rural residents would shoulder the burden.

Rendell said he would ask Congress to remove the amendment before the appropriations bill gets sent to President George W. Bush’s desk for approval. Either that, or plans for a turnpike lease, would become a reality, he added.

Any such lease of the turnpike would require approval by the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

– By David Tanner, staff writer