Pennsylvania House approves bill to privatize roads, bridges

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 4/6/2012

Halfway through the Pennsylvania statehouse is a bill to allow the state to partner with private groups to help get work done on transportation infrastructure.

OOIDA officials say truckers already pay taxes and other user fees to access freeways. As a result, charging tolls on existing roads would amount to an additional tax.

The Association’s list of highway funding principles notes that “tolls are taxes, and paying both tolls and fuel taxes amounts to double taxation. OOIDA adamantly opposes the sale or lease of existing roads and efforts to convert non-tolled roads into toll facilities.”

House lawmakers voted 128-66 on Wednesday, April 4, to advance a bill to the Senate that would set up a framework for deals with private groups from around the world to fund work on roads and bridges.

The bill – HB3 – would exclude handing over the Pennsylvania Turnpike, unless the Legislature approves it.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Rick Geist, R-Blair, labeled the effort a jobs bill. He said it would put people back to work as the state rebuilds roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

Geist is among supporters who also point out that Gov. Tom Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission has recommended that authorization be given for public-private partnerships to get transportation projects complete, as well as tolling authority on existing interstates.

The commission’s report from this past August encouraged action due to anticipation that the funding need for transportation in the state is expected to triple from $3.5 billion now to $10.7 billion by 2030.

“We need to be in the business of funding worn out highways and bridges in Pennsylvania,” Geist previously told lawmakers. “There are projects that people are looking at and they are ready to go.”

One group he has said that is ready to do business in the state is Goldman Sachs. The company has frequented capitols around the country for years touting the benefits of signing over state assets to private developers.

If approved, a seven-member board would be created to review toll proposals. Four state lawmakers would sit on the board.

Rep. Steven Santarsiero, D-Bucks, voted against the bill. Among his concerns is handing over decisions on projects to a select panel without input from the public and elected officials.

“It’s a big mistake to cede that authority to an unelected commission,” Santarsiero said during House floor debate. “This General Assembly should be able to address projects on a case-by-case basis, and make a thorough and fair decision on each application, as they come forward.

He also pointed out that the private sector option would fill only about 15 percent of the highway funding needs in the state.

“This bill doesn’t come anywhere close to addressing the massive crisis Pennsylvania faces with regard to fixing our crumbling roads, bridges and public transit systems,” Santarsiero said.

Ryan Bowley, OOIDA’s director of legislative affairs, said this week’s vote shows that Pennsylvania officials view public-private partnerships as part of the solution to years of mismanaging transportation revenue highlighted by the state’s $3.5 billion annual shortfall.

“They continue to want to avoid responsibility for paying for highways,” he said. “Politicians love to talk about the importance of improving highways, yet they are afraid to figure out ways to pay for them on their own.”

Bowley said the state is headed down the wrong road in handing over to a select board all authority to reach decisions on privatization deals.

“Turning over decisions about funding to some unelected board, or some untouchable private entity, if anything, shows a failure to lead on improving highways.”

OOIDA will soon issue a Call to Action to Pennsylvania members, encouraging truckers to contact their state senators about the legislation.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Pennsylvania, click here.

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