(HARRISBURG) – Sen. John Gordner (R-27) and Sen. Jake Corman (R-34) yesterday introduced legislation that will provide more money for needed transportation improvements in Pennsylvania, as well as provide for mass transit funding, without the need to impose tolls on Interstate Route 80. Senate Bill 1280 will allow for a public-private partnership agreement to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
“It is important to note that this proposal will provide $750 million or more annually for road and bridge projects throughout the Commonwealth, as well as provide $250 million annually for funding for mass transit,” said the Senator. “It is a far superior plan to the flawed Act 44 that passed the General Assembly last July, it will provide more money and it does not require the imposition of tolls along I-80,” he added.
Senate Bill 1280 allows the Pennsylvania Turnpike to be divided into three sections for the purpose of entering into public-private partnership agreements. The State Transportation Commission is given the power to negotiate 50 year agreements with American-based and majority American-owned companies in return for an upfront payment to the Commonwealth.
“By dividing the Turnpike into three sections, there should be greater competition among a larger pool of companies who would wish to bid on the public-private partnership agreements,” said Sen. Gordner.
The Transportation Commission is a non-partisan commission chaired by the Secretary of Transportation and is the organization that currently establishes the state’s Twelve-Year Program for transportation improvements. Under SB 1280, the current Turnpike Commission is abolished and Act 44 is repealed.
To provide for needed road and bridge improvements in the Commonwealth, the Commission will be required to make annual transfers to the Department of Transportation of at least one billion dollars until the year 2010, at which time the payments must be at least one billion dollars plus 2.5 percent. Of the one billion dollars, $750 million will be used to fund road and bridge projects and $250 million will be used to support mass transit.
“Funding for mass transit is the same amount that is provided for in Act 44 if the conversion of Interstate 80 into a toll road would not be approved by the federal government,” said Senator Gordner. “Further, the legislation will require annual performance audits of the transit systems that receive this money.”
Under federal law, the U.S. Department of Transportation can approve the I-80 conversion under three criteria: elimination of traffic congestion, reduction of emissions in certain areas of high pollution and the need for additional capital improvements.
“None of those criteria apply to Interstate 80, and as I have said in the past, the current administration will not approve the tolling plan,” Corman said.
The legislation will further require the public-private partnership agreement to include provisions that require continued improvements along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It allows for Turnpike toll increases that are tied to the annual rate of inflation.
“In this week’s Budget Address, Governor Ed Rendell said that he would not sign any legislation to repeal Act 44 unless the funds generated by proposed tolls on Interstate 80 were replaced. Senate Bill 1280 does that,” said Senator Gordner.
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