Lawmaker: Pa. turnpike lease dead

July 4, 2008 1:31:44 PM PDT
The chairman of the state House Transportation Committee said Friday that Gov. Ed Rendell's plan to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike is essentially dead. Rep. Joseph Markosek, an Allegheny County Democrat, said legislation that would authorize the proposed $12.8 billion lease will not get a vote in the committee he heads.

Markosek said there is very little support for the deal in the House and he believes it is time to focus on other aspects of state transportation policy.

"We've had extensive hearings," he said. "The majority of members of the committee are dead set against the lease."

He called it a bad financial deal that will not be worth pursuing even if the federal government does not give its approval to adding tolls to Interstate 80 under a law passed last summer.

"This is such an insufficient financial deal that even if we desperately need the money, this wouldn't be the answer," Markosek said.

Pennsylvania Transportation Partners, a group established by high bidders Abertis Infraestructuras of Spain and Citi Infrastructure Investors, wants to operate about 500 miles of the turnpike system under a 75-year lease.

The billions such a lease would produce would be invested, with the proceeds dedicated to helping to plug a $1.7 billion hole in the state's annual needs for highways, bridges and mass transit.

Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said the administration still hoped to convince lawmakers to revive the initiative after they return from their two-month summer break, even though Markosek said that was highly unlikely.

"We're certainly disappointed in the chairman's point of view, but we would hope that after an opportunity to debate the pros and cons of the issue, the Legislature will choose to consider the proposal in its fall session," Ardo said.

Pennsylvania Transportation Partners spokesman Jim Courtovich said the group intended to continue to push their offer, despite Markosek's opposition.

"We feel very confident that there are many members of the General Assembly who are strongly interested in hearing about all the facts and details of the lease proposal," he said. "And we'll be having those conversations throughout the summer and looking forward to a vote in the fall when the Legislature returns."


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