Pennsylvania Turnpike responds to calls for PennDOT merger

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 4/18/2013

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission says it has been working, and will continue to work, on ways to gain the public’s trust in the wake of corruption charges against former leaders and a recent bill in the statehouse that would abolish the commission and merge the turnpike into PennDOT.

“The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has not taken a position on the proposal to merge operations with PennDOT. However, we understand the need for reform in response to the serious allegations in the grand jury presentment,” said the commission’s director of public relations Carl DeFebo.

He says the Turnpike had been making reforms in recent years prior to a grand jury investigation of former CEO Joseph Brimmeier, former Commissioner Mitchell Rubin, former state Sen. Robert Mellow, and three others in an alleged pay-to-play scheme.

The state’s attorney general announced the investigation in mid-March, accusing the former officials of “secret gifts of cash, travel, and entertainment, and the payment of substantial political contributions to public officials and political organizations, by private Turnpike vendors and their consultants.”

Market analysts at Moody’s Investor Service recently downgraded the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s bond rating in the wake of the scandal.

Piling on further, state Reps. Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion, and Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery, have introduced a bill, HB1197, to abolish the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and roll “all operations, maintenance, construction and other responsibilities” into the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Current Turnpike CEO Mark Compton has been forthright with his responses, saying the agency has been and will continue working on reforms in an effort to gain public trust.

“We are working hard to earn the public’s trust, and this work will continue,” the most recent press release states. “Our customers, our employees and our business partners deserve no less.”

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has raised tolls five years running to keep up with the requirements of a state law known as Act 44 of 2007. According to Act 44, the agency is required to pay $450 million a year to PennDOT to fund projects unrelated to the turnpike such as mass transit in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The bulk of the funding for Act 44 was to have come from the conversion of Interstate 80 into a toll road, but public outcry from business leaders, truckers and chambers of commerce along the I-80 corridor helped drive a stake into that provision in a statehouse committee.

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