Pennsylvania Turnpike lease ‘off the table’

| Tuesday, April 26, 2011

As officials in Pennsylvania look for ways to balance the transportation budget, the chairman of a governor-appointed task force says leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors is off the table. So is a hike in fuel taxes.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett appointed the 35-member Transportation Funding Advisory Commission earlier this month to find $2.5 billion in new funding for transportation. The commission’s first meeting was Monday, April 25.

“(PennDOT) Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch, who chairs the commission, said that both he and Gov. Corbett are opposed to the leasing of the Turnpike, so that was not going to be one of the options the commission would consider,” PennDOT spokesman Rich Kirkpatrick told Land Line.

Public-private partnerships will be considered, however, including proposals for new lanes and roadways built and financed with tolls. A limited use of tolling on existing roadways may also be considered, but the commission’s final report is not due until Aug. 1.

OOIDA considers the tolling of existing roadways as double taxation on highway users. The Association also opposes the lease or sale of public roadways to private investors.

Increases in fuel taxes, including diesel, are off the table as well, Kirkpatrick said.

“The secretary said that given the direction the country was going in terms of increasing mileage standards for vehicles, and the fact that consumption has been falling, it didn’t make much sense to peg a viable long-term transportation funding solution on increasing the gas tax, so that is another item that will not be considered,” the spokesman said.

The Transportation Funding Advisory Commission is accepting public comments on its proposals by email at tfac@state.pa.us.  The commission’s next meeting is May 16 in Harrisburg, PA.

Eleven months ago, the state’s standing Transportation Advisory Committee identified a $3.5 billion funding gap in transportation, including money “lost” when the federal government denied the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s request to toll Interstate 80.

The TAC’s May 2010 report called for a study of a tax on vehicle miles traveled, or VMT, as a way of replacing the fuel tax. That recommendation was based on a 2006 federal commission report that also called for more research into VMT taxes.

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