One down, one to go in Pennsylvania

| 9/12/2008

After claiming victory in the fight against I-80 becoming a toll road in Pennsylvania, truckers turned their attention to other critical transportation issues in the state.

OOIDA and other highway user groups called it “a great day for truckers” when Federal Highway Administration officials rejected the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s application for tolling I-80 on Thursday, Sept. 11.

Among the numerous stakeholders who claimed the victory were state and federal lawmakers from Pennsylvania who stood with truckers at numerous rallies – including one held a year ago by OOIDA officials. But these stakeholders know that there is still much work to be done in the state capital of Harrisburg, PA, and in Washington, DC, to fix Pennsylvania’s transportation issues.

Gov. Ed Rendell and the Pennsylvania General Assembly will soon be returning to session, and on their plate will be the controversial proposal to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors from Spain and New York.

OOIDA officials say there is no need for the Legislature to have a “knee-jerk reaction” to the rejection of I-80 tolls by passing enabling legislation to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike. And Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee Chairman Joseph Markosek, D-Allegheny-Westmoreland, said he will make sure the knee-jerk reaction doesn’t happen.

“That is a low bid. It’s an insufficient bid that would be tantamount to us basically giving away the Turnpike,” Markosek told Land Line Now on XM Satellite Radio.

“The money would not last more than about 20 years out of the 75-year lease. I think it would be very irresponsible to vote on that particular lease and approve that lease. Quite frankly, I don’t think there’s any appetite in the Legislature to vote for it anyway.”

It must be noted that Markosek was an author of Act 44, the law that authorized the Turnpike Commission to seek tolling on Interstate 80. The transportation chairman still believes I-80 tolls are the fairest way to generate transportation revenue.

“The Turnpike Commission is planning to resubmit the bid to the feds and after the first of the year. There will be a new administration in Washington,” he said.

“Perhaps a fresh set of eyeballs will be able to review this and be able to come up with a more reasonable response to Pennsylvania’s transportation needs.”

OOIDA officials reacted to Markosek’s statements.

“We support Markosek’s position in opposing the lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike,” Mike Joyce, OOIDA director of legislative affairs, told Land Line Magazine.

“We agree that the current bid out there is not what the value of the Turnpike truly is. We would disagree with Pennsylvania’s ability to come back and reapply to the FHWA for tolling I-80 under one of the pilot programs.

“We hold firm to our belief that Pennsylvania was never in a position to comply with what the requirements are within the pilot program. Tolling I-80 is not the solution. Selling the Turnpike is not the solution.”

Other trucking groups, including the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, also released comments on the issue.

“Pennsylvania’s leaders should consider all options, including traditional, equitable and efficient funding mechanisms such as fuel taxes, to address the Commonwealth’s infrastructure needs,” PMTA President Jim Runk stated.

“Privatizing the Turnpike for 75 years is not in the public’s best interest. Such an arrangement is nothing more than a loan obligation that must be paid back by future generations.”

Turnpike Commission officials released the following statement in regards to the I-80 toll proposal being rejected: “It is important to keep in mind that the Turnpike will continue to meet our financial obligations under Act 44,” CEO Joseph Brimmeier stated.

“We provided $750 million to the commonwealth last fiscal year, are providing $850 million this year, and plan to meet the FY2010 commitment to make payments totaling $900 million to PennDOT for roads, bridges and public transportation agencies across Pennsylvania.”

Brimmeier said the Turnpike Commission heard about the rejection only through media reports and said officials will be making more statements after reviewing the rejection in writing.

– By David Tanner, staff writer

Staff Writer Reed Black contributed to this report.