An interesting idea. While this article focuses on the highway side, the commission made the same recommendations on the transit side (which in reality means contracting out more routes):
NewsReport: State needs to raise $1.6 billion
November 19, 2006
HARRISBURG — A recommendation that Pennsylvania needs to raise $1.6 billion through taxes and other means to overhaul its transportation system hit like a ton of bricks around here.
The report by the governor's Transportation Funding and Reform Commission puts transportation issues on the front burner in the new legislative session that starts in January.
Few dispute the commission's analysis that the state's road-and-bridge network and mass transit systems are at a serious juncture. PennDOT can't build highways fast enough to keep pace with traffic, bridges are being closed due to structural defects and mass transit systems lack a stable revenue base.
The commission's medicine is tough to swallow politically because it proposes a set of tax hikes at both the state and local level. The commission is recommending hikes in the state gasoline tax, the state realty transfer tax and motor vehicle registration fees to meet some of the needs. Local governments would get new authority to levy taxes to help pay for mass transit needs.
This summary is a simplification of a very complicated and intertwined revenue plan. Just the proposal alone to hike the state oil franchise tax by 11.5 cents a gallon to pay for highway and bridge work will be a tough sell in a voter-wary General Assembly with 56 new members.
The revenue plan is almost designed to draw attention to the other side of the commission's report: the recommendation that Pennsylvania "aggressively" look at creating public-private partnerships to finance and undertake transportation projects.
Sounds like a yawner. But here is what it's really about.
The state would seek a massive cash infusion to pay for road and bridge projects by leasing one of its biggest and best-known assets: the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The state would lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private firm for 75 years for a sum in the range of $30 billion. The $30 billion would be put in a trust fund to generate $3 billion annually for transportation projects.
The private firm would take over the operation and maintenance of the Turnpike perhaps absorbing turnpike commission employees. The firm would reengineer the turnpike adding high-speed lanes, electronic toll collection and even stretches of road where the traffic flow can be reversed to accommodate commuters.
In addition, the private firm would have the right to sell lucrative development rights around the turnpike interchanges to developers of hotels, business parks and entertainment complexes.
The lease contract would set performance standards for the turnpike operator to abide by down to such details as removal of road kill. The state would continue to hold eminent domain powers if additional property is needed for a turnpike construction project. Rep. Richard Geist, R-Blair, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, outlined this scenario at a forum sponsored by the Commonwealth Foundation. Geist has sponsored legislation authorizing public-private partnerships in the transportation sector.
He envisions smaller partnerships could be formed so private firms could undertake the rebuilding of sections of the interstate system, including Interstate 80. Geist's legislation will authorize PennDOT to solicit proposals for some projects and also consider unsolicited offers.
If this idea wins acceptance, Geist's partnership bill would move in tandem with a constitutional amendment to make sure that all revenues generated from the sale or leasing of assets like the Turnpike are earmarked to transportation projects.
Other states like Indiana, Virginia, Texas and Florida are using private capital to fund transportation projects. This will be one of the key policy issues facing Pennsylvanians in 2007.
The Daily Item is published by Ottaway Newspapers