Lease It, If You Must Toll It

Turnpike Commission’s plans for I-80 will cost Pennsylvanians billions

HARRISBURG, PA — As the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission rolled out its plans for Interstate 80, the Commonwealth Foundation called on Gov. Rendell and the General Assembly to seek competitive bids from the private sector to lease and operate the highway if policymakers choose to toll drivers on the 311-mile road.

“We don’t believe it is necessary to toll I-80, but if policymakers are determined to do so—and Pennsylvania receives federal permission—we should go to the marketplace and see what the private sector will bring to the table for a lease under the same conditions as the Turnpike Commission,” said Matthew Brouillette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation. “The last thing we should do is merely hand over the tolling of I-80 to the Turnpike Commission. Not only is it bad public policy not to seek competitive bids on such a major transportation project, but it will likely cost taxpayers billions of dollars.”

Based upon the Abertis/Citi offer of $12.8 billion to lease and operate the 537-mile Turnpike, a concession agreement on I-80 would likely generate more money for the state than the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s plans under Act 44, according to Brouillette.

“The Turnpike Commission’s shortfall in transportation funding will require higher gas taxes and more bonded debt in the future. But a lease of I-80—coupled with a lease of the Turnpike—would likely fill Pennsylvania’s entire transportation infrastructure funding gap,” said Brouillette.

Currently, Pennsylvania lacks the ability to toll I-80. The Federal Highway Administration rejected the Turnpike Commission’s initial application in December 2007 because it failed to meet the requisite requirements of the federal program. After delaying for nearly eights months, the Turnpike Commission finally announced that it plans to re-submit its application in August 2008.

“All across America and around the world, a new paradigm in transportation funding policy has emerged. The private sector has demonstrated that it can bring greater value to the table while shifting the financial risks away from taxpayers,” said Brouillette. “If I-80 is to become a toll road, it would be fiscally irresponsible to not seek competitive bids and explore a public-private partnership. The old funding model of raising taxes, hiking fees, and going into bonded debt is no longer a sufficient and efficient means of financing and operating our transportation infrastructure.”

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Editor’s Note: The policy report, The Emerging Paradigm: Financing and Managing Pennsylvania’s Transportation Infrastructure and Mass Transit, is available here.

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

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