Pennsylvania Turnpike officials cut staff, costs

| 11/14/2008

Citing its first reduction in annual traffic counts in 68 years, officials at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission announced they must cut the budget, including staff.

Turnpike CEO Joseph Brimmeier offered a financial incentive for employees who agreed to retire or resign by Nov. 20. Payment offers to staff would vary based on the length of their employment.

The cuts are attributed to traffic counts that decreased for the first time since a time of gasoline rationing during World War II.

“This decision comes in response to a 1.6 percent drop in traffic volumes for the period June through September 2008 as compared to the same time last year,” Brimmeier stated in a memorandum to Gov. Ed Rendell and obtained by Land Line Magazine.

Brimmeier insisted in the letter that the cutbacks will not affect the turnpike’s obligation to pay the state Department of Transportation $450 million per year in payments guaranteed in the 2007 state transportation law known as Act 44.

Act 44 turned control of Interstate 80 over to the Turnpike Commission with the intention that the interstate would be converted into a toll road with the same toll rates as the turnpike. The federal government rejected the interstate tolling proposal in September, but the Turnpike Commission is still contractually obligated to make payments to the DOT.

“This traffic decrease – and our self-imposed cutbacks – will not impact our Act 44 commitment to provide an additional $1.3 billion in new transportation funding for Pennsylvania from now through May, 2010,” Brimmeier stated in his letter to the governor.

Despite signing Act 44 into law in July 2007, Gov. Rendell’s preferred option to increase transportation has been to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors. A long-term lease proposed in May of this year that would have seen the turnpike fall under the control of a Spanish-American firm for $12.8 billion was taken off the table in September because it lacked legislative support and stirred up a public backlash.

For the time being, the Turnpike Commission will continue to operate the 545-mile system and make cuts where necessary.

“Tightening our belts in today’s financial climate, on the brink of a possible global recession, is absolutely a must, especially considering the Commission’s expanded responsibilities to the commonwealth under Act 44 of 2007,” he stated.

Brimmeier said the agency will continue to invest in the turnpike system, including a $4 billion highway spending package over the next 10 years.

– By David Tanner, staff writer