Pennsylvania Turnpike seeks private investors for new capacity

| 8/20/2008

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission officials plan on inviting private investors to construct, operate and maintain portions of the system not yet built.

Five months after the commission voted to seek private interest in three roadway extension projects, officials have called an informational meeting to bring possible investors to the table.

Officials said Friday, Aug. 15, that they want private investors to build 24 miles of the Mon-Fayette Expressway and 26 miles of the Southern Beltway split into two projects in Washington County.

The agreements, known as public-private partnerships and sometimes referred to as PPPs or P3s, would allow the investors to be reimbursed with revenue generated by tolls.

“We believe the best use for a P3 is as initially intended: To help build new facilities, so-called ‘greenfield’ projects,” Turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier stated in a press release. “However, we still assert that P3s relating to ‘brownfield’ projects – or existing infrastructure – offer less opportunity for the private sector to add value.”

Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association say that although they are not categorically opposed to greenfield tolling projects involving the private sector, they believe officials in Pennsylvania need to realize that highway users expect their taxes and tolls to be used fairly and wisely for transportation.

“I believe any new substantive transportation proposal in Pennsylvania should also include measures to provide greater accountability and responsibility in highway funding to highway users of the state,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer told Land Line.

State and federal lawmakers, transportation officials and highway users continue to grapple over how to make up for what is being called a billion-dollar annual shortfall in Pennsylvania for transportation and infrastructure.

Turnpike officials continue to push ahead on a plan to convert Interstate 80 into a toll road. The tolling proposal, although authorized by state law, requires federal approval that has not yet been granted.

Gov. Ed Rendell continues to promote the leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors for up-front cash as an option.

OOIDA remains opposed to I-80 tolls as well as Rendell’s proposed turnpike lease.

– By David Tanner staff writer