Trucking officials say Pennsylvania Turnpike study has hidden agenda

| 3/4/2008

Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association agree with parts of a study that debunks the proposed leasing of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors.

Other parts of the study, including the alternative – placing new tolls on Interstate 80 – are not favorable to truckers, taxpayers and other highway users, OOIDA Senior Government Affairs Representative Mike Joyce told Land Line.

The House Democrats commissioned the study, released Tuesday, March 3, to defend the passage of a transportation-funding proposal called Act 44 in July 2007. To read the report, click here.

Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, signed Act 44 into law to give the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission authority to take control of I-80 and apply to the federal government to toll the interstate.

Joyce pointed to partisan politics in the 65-page study titled “For Whom the Road Tolls: Corporate Asset or Public Good.”

“It’s sort of a game of musical chairs,” Joyce said. “Any report that comes out that doesn’t have some bipartisan flavor to it lends itself to not passing the smell test.”

Joyce said truckers would agree that tolls would increase on a privately operated turnpike.

“We agree that a long-term lease is not in the best interest of taxpayers, truckers and highway users,” Joyce said. “However, we disagree that Act 44 is the better course of action.”

House Majority Whip Keith McCall, D-Carbon; Appropriations Committee Chairman Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia; and Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Markosek, D-Allegheny/Westmoreland, issued statements Tuesday about the study they commissioned.

“Handing over the reins of the Turnpike is not in the best interest of the Commonwealth and the millions of people who use it,” Markosek said. “No private entity would be able to raise the funds necessary to prepare and sustain our infrastructure without immobilizing toll hikes.”

Joyce said Markosek’s statements would be welcomed by truckers if Markosek wasn’t a supporter of Act 44 and the tolling of I-80 as the alternative.

Gov. Rendell has said repeatedly that he prefers leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors rather than implementing tolls on I-80, but he is currently pursuing both plans in an effort to stir up billions of dollars in funding.

Republicans at the state and federal level immediately responded to the study including U.S. Rep. John Peterson, R-PA.

“Until the legislative leaders in Harrisburg find the courage to take on the scandal-ridden Turnpike Commission and the bloated mass transit agencies in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, these political patronage cesspools will continue to be an economic drain on the Commonwealth,” Peterson said.

Peterson says he would rather see Act 44 and I-80 tolls repealed and the state lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the private sector.

OOIDA’s Joyce said that while Peterson makes some good points about the Turnpike Commission, truckers disagree with the part about leasing the turnpike to private investors.

Joyce said the Democrat-backed study is going to create as much confusion as it’s supposedly trying to clean up because it forces people to consider which is the lesser of two evils.

“Both of these so-called solutions are totally flawed,” Joyce said. “They put a tremendous burden on the people of Pennsylvania and highway users.”

The authors of the study were Gary J. Gray, professor of finance with Pennsylvania State University at University Park; Patrick J. Cusatis, professor of finance with Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg; and John H. Foote, senior fellow at Harvard University.

– By David Tanner, staff writer