Former Pennsylvania Turnpike exec saw his share of controversy

| 2/2/2011

Joseph Brimmeier has retired after serving eight years as CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. A spokesman says the five-member commission typically acts on the recommendation of the governor to hire a CEO. So far, no names have come forward.

Brimmeier?s last day was Friday, Jan. 28, Turnpike Commission spokesman Carl DeFebo said.

?He wanted to retire quietly,? DeFebo said, adding that commissioners presented him with a letter of appreciation at their last meeting.

Appointed in 2003, Brimmeier saw his share of good times but was also at the helm for some of the more controversial happenings at the Turnpike in generations. He instituted the first large toll increase, for example.

Also notable to highway users, Brimmeier was a supporter of the controversial state law known as Act 44. That was the law that gave the Turnpike Commission control of Interstate 80 in 2007 and called for the interstate to be tolled. On top of that, Act 44 allows hundreds of millions of dollars in Turnpike revenue to be siphoned off for other transportation programs including mass transit.

Truckers, business leaders, small cities and some lawmakers in the I-80 corridor united against the toll issue and rejoiced when the Federal Highway Administration chose multiple times to deny the tolling application. Meanwhile, the annual Act 44 payments to PennDOT continue.

Brimmeier was there when powerful state Sen. Vincent Fumo and past Turnpike Commission Chairman Mitchell Rubin fell from public grace. Fumo was convicted in 2009 of 137 counts ranging from mail fraud to conspiracy and obstruction of justice relating to ?no-work? contracts that named Rubin as one of Fumo?s ?ghost employees.?

When he was still relatively new to the position, Brimmeier saw the Teamsters walk out on strike the day before Thanksgiving in 2004 ? one of the busiest travel days of the year.

?He had to oversee that and keep the road operating,? DeFebo told Land Line.

During Brimmeier?s tenure, the use of E-ZPass grew from 500,000 accounts to 1.5 million. In addition, he launched a major turnpike widening project as well as a plan for new service plazas.

Truckers remember when Gov. Ed Rendell announced plans to lease the 578-mile Pennsylvania Turnpike system to private investors in May 2008. Bids came in from overseas firms, but luckily the plan got shelved in committee.

DeFebo said Brimmeier fought hard against the lease proposal, and understood that he had an ally in truckers on that issue.

?It?s probably safe to say that no individual was engaged in that effort more in diverting a possible takeover by an overseas firm,? DeFebo said. ?He believed the Turnpike should stay in public hands and remain an asset of the state.?

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission consists of five appointed members and two executives. Four of the five members are appointed directly by the governor, and the state secretary of transportation ? also appointed by the governor ? acts as the fifth member. The five voting members are in charge of hiring the next CEO. Their next meeting is Feb. 15. DeFebo said they may or may not have a plan by then to replace Brimmeier.

For now, the commission?s chief operating officer, Craig R. Shuey, will act as the interim executive.

Newly elected Gov. Tom Corbett took office in January. He is a former state attorney general.