Whether the Feds will go along with the state plan to toll PA/I-80 is one of the hottest political issues in the state right now with dire predictions being made about the retrenchments that will be needed at state agencies if the US Secretary Transportation says no. At stake is an annual half a billion dollars the Pennsylvania Turnpike is due to pay the state with I-80 tolled that will be lost from another No.
Year's end saw a widely circulated satire trumpeting the success of the interstate highway system as an argument for government-provided health services (see link at bottom). It generated this comment from a transportation analyst who has to remain anonymous: "Apparently we are expected to think that because the Interstate Highway system is heavily used it therefore follows that Federal funding (90%) was the best way to pay for it. There are several reasons to think otherwise.
An obscure company whose main expertise is jails is key financial advisor to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission in their application to the Feds for permission to toll I-80.
Seattle metro area governments are choosing a longrange plan from a set of alternatives all of which involve more tolls. Analysis of costs and benefits makes tolling of all expressways and arterials look like a good choice. But that choice won't be formally made until May 2010 (contrary to our initial, incorrect posting last week - editor)
A previously unpublished Memorandum written by the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) chief counsel at the time, Marcus J Lemon, explains rather clearly the thinking behind the US Government rejection last September of the second Pennsylvania application to toll I-80.
Tolling should be a simple service business, providing and maintaining a road for motorists in return for fees from users. It should be rather mundane, boring even. After all pavement is hardly the most exciting of mankind's artifacts, and its upkeep hardly more than a lot of chores.
But as anyone currently living in Boston MA, or Orlando FL or West Virginia knows the toll business is nothing like that.
Following the Federal No to tolling I-80 on Thursday (2008-09-11) Governor Ed Rendell immediately called for enabling legislation to proceed with the agreed lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to the Abertis/Citi team which has a $12.8 billion offer in effect until Sept 30. Rendell says "It's the only plan." He says without it the state is back into financial crisis.
The Federal Highway Administration has rejected the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's plan to toll I-80, saying the state's application does not meet the legal requirements for the use of revenues. Toll revenues can be used to pay annual lease payments under federal law, FHWA said, but the amounts must be based on an objective valuation of the asset being leased.
Opponents of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) are calling for the contending presidential candidates to come out against the handover of I-80. Evidence of this comes in a commentary by Nathan Benefield of the Commonwealth Foundation thinktank and Ryan Shafik of the Lincoln Institute for Public Opinion Research.
With the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission rolling out its plans for Interstate 80, the Commonwealth Foundation thinktank in Harrisburg called on officials to seek competitive bids from the private sector to lease and operate the highway if policymakers choose to toll the 500km (311-mile) interstate.