I-80 Lease Non-Compliant with the Law

Governor should declare agreement “null and void,” says Commonwealth Foundation.

HARRISBURG, PA — Today, the Commonwealth Foundation called on Gov. Ed Rendell and the General Assembly to declare the Interstate-80 lease agreement between the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and PennDOT “null and void” because of their clear violation of the law.

Act 44 is the recently passed transportation legislation which empowered the Commission to raise tolls on the Turnpike by 25% in 2009 and 3% every year thereafter, as well as erect toll plazas on the currently un-tolled Interstate 80. According to Section 7, Paragraph 8915.3 of Act 44, “The department and the commission shall enter into a lease agreement relating to Interstate 80 prior to October 15, 2007.” No such lease agreement was reached until October 16, 2007.

“Given the failure of the Turnpike Commission and PennDOT to comply with the law, as well as the uncertainty over the legality of tolling I-80, Gov. Rendell and the General Assembly should take this opportunity to fully and properly vet how Pennsylvania will finance and manage its transportation infrastructure and mass transit systems,” said Commonwealth Foundation President Matthew Brouillette.

Act 44 was enacted with no public hearings, no committee meetings, and no forums with lawmakers for citizens or affected stakeholders to express their support or opposition to the Turnpike Commission’s proposal. Brouillette noted that since the passage of the law, a number of flaws have been exposed and several issues have emerged, including pending legislation before Congress which would effectively prohibit tolls on Interstate 80. Additionally, he said, it remains uncertain that the Turnpike Commission will be granted permission to toll Interstate 80 under current federal programs.

“Unfortunately, the failure to obey the law and the potential rejection of the application to toll I-80 by the U.S. Department of Transportation are only two of the many reasons to put the brakes on Act 44 and revisit the issue again,” said Brouillette. “Gov. Rendell has publicly admitted that Act 44 will provide only half the funding needed to repair our dilapidated bridges, roads, and highways, at more than twice the cost to commuters and taxpayers, as compared to a lease of the Turnpike.”

“Worse yet, the Turnpike Commission can begin borrowing immediately, even before it is certain to have the revenue necessary to pay off its billions of dollars in bonded debt,” said Brouillette. “If the tolling of I-80 is denied, citizens will be burdened with even higher Turnpike tolls and taxes for decades to come.”

“It is incumbent on Gov. Rendell to take action because of the Turnpike Commission and PennDOT’s failure to comply with the law,” Brouillette said. “As Governor, he has the duty and responsibility to immediately declare the lease agreement null and void for violating the law. The General Assembly should then immediately revisit Act 44 to pursue better, more fiscally responsible solutions to our transportation needs. The people of Pennsylvania deserve nothing less from their elected officials.”

# # #

The Commonwealth Foundation is an independent, non-profit public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg, PA.

– 30 –