Spanish group enters top Turnpike bid

May 19, 2008 4:49:12 PM PDT
A Spanish group submitted the highest bid for the right to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike for 75 years.

Abertis Infraestructuras offered to pay $12.8 billion for the lease, which Gov. Ed Rendell announced at a news conference Monday.

Rendell endorsed the bid, the highest of three that were submitted, and said he would submit it to the Legislature for approval.

"This is a lease, we maintain the power throughout this entire period on tolls, on maintenance, on workforce, and on things like that," Governor Rendell said.

The governor's been pursuing a privatization plan to raise billions for the state's transportation needs. He's said he'll pass along the highest bid to the Legislature for its consideration.

If a turnpike deal can generate enough money, Rendell says the state will abandon plans to introduce tolls to Interstate 80.

"To me it seems like a slam dunk. The reasons I've heard against [include] we don't want to sell an asset. Well, we're not selling an asset; we're leasing it and we're controlling the things that are vitally important," Governor Rendell said.

Proponents of privatization say it could generate more than a billion dollars a year for mass transit and road and bridge repairs statewide; it would apparently replace last year's controversial plan to raise money by turning Interstate-80 into a toll road.

Supporters of what was rolled out today say private investors would run the turnpike with greater efficiency.

State Representative Kate Harper questions that thinking.

"I'm not sure it's true that private hands would run it more efficiently and I'm certainly not sure it's true that a private entity or group of investors would have the public interests at stake that this road requires," Representative Harper said.

Carl DeFebo, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, says additional information federal regulators want as they consider whether to approve I-80 tolls will be probably not be ready in the coming days.

He says the timetable is more like "weeks or months."

----- The AP's MARK SCOLFORO contributed to this report.