Logbook: Turnpike lease in limbo; I-80 toll plan advances

| December 12, 2008

Motorists pay tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which is at the center of a leasing controversy among the commonwealth’s governor and lawmakers.

Gov. Ed Rendell maintains leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike is viable, despite the vow of a key legislator from the governor’s own party to keep bottled up in committee the bill that would allow it.

Leasing the 514-mile road to a U.S.-Spanish business consortium has enough support in both legislative houses to pass, said Barry Ciccocioppo, spokesman for the Democrat governor: “This legislation is not dead.”

But Democrat Rep. Joseph Markosek, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said HB 2593, which was sent to his committee June 5, is flawed, such as by not holding the lessees publicly accountable.

“I have no plans to move it from my committee,” said Markosek.

In 2007, Rendell signed Act 44, which requires the Turnpike to provide the state transportation department with $83.3 billion over 50 years. It also would implement Turnpike toll increases of 25 percent in January 2009 and increases of up to 3 percent each following year.

The Turnpike and Pennsylvania’s transportation department also have requested permission from the Federal Highway Administration to toll Interstate 80, saying two-thirds of the state’s new transportation revenue would come from Turnpike users and the remainder from I-80 tolls.

Turnpike officials on July 14 unveiled the long-term plan for open-road tolling on I-80 that they were submitting to FHWA. In December, their application to request authority to toll I-80 under an FHWA pilot project was returned requesting more information. Their plan for tolls on I-80 pegs rates to 2010 Turnpike rates with escalation set at 3 percent per year, said Turnpike representatives.
- Todd Dills and Jill Dunn

Bush, ATA propose steps to expand U.S. oil production
The Bush administration and the American Trucking Associations are urging longer-term measures to increase domestic oil production.

Bush last month lifted a presidential ban on offshore oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, though the move had no immediate effect because Congress has prohibited offshore drilling every year since the 1980s as part of the Interior Department’s appropriations bill. The executive order originally was put in place by George H. Bush in 1990.

In a speech June 18, President Bush called on Congress to expand oil exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf, allow oil shale leasing on federal lands, permit oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and expedite the refinery permitting process to allow for more refining capacity.

“With these four steps, we will take pressure off gas prices over time by expanding the amount of American-made oil and gasoline,” Bush said.

Meanwhile, in a June 24 press conference, ATA urged the Bush administration and Congress to implement a comprehensive plan to increase domestic oil supplies.

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