Pennsylvania lawmaker proposes lease of turnpike, I-80 tolling repeal

| 1/15/2008

As an alternative to putting tolls on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania, a state lawmaker plans to introduce legislation to privatize the Pennsylvania Turnpike in three sections to help pay for road and bridge work throughout the state.

Sen. John Gordner, R-Berwick, said the proposal also would repeal a six-month-old law that authorized the state to pursue charging car and truck drivers to use the interstate.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the state Department of Transportation are seeking federal approval to convert I-80 into a toll route as authorized by legislation approved in July 2007. The U.S. DOT is reviewing the state’s application.

In a memo he sent to other senators seeking support, Gordner said the state needs a revenue-making alternative in light of public opposition to erecting 10 toll barriers along the 313-mile east-west route. He also cited the possibility that the federal government could reject the tolling plan.

Gordner wants to auction the 530-mile turnpike in three parts to private American-owned groups. The roadway would be divided from the Ohio border east to Harrisburg and from Harrisburg east to the New Jersey border. The Northeast extension would be the third part.

Lease deals would allow for companies to enter into public-private partnership agreements with the state. Dividing the turnpike into three sections would allow for greater competition among a larger pool of companies, Gordner wrote to lawmakers.

Gordner said some estimates suggest such agreements would “easily surpass the revenue that would be generated” by putting tolls on I-80.

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– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor