In a bid to raise desperately needed highway construction and maintenance funds, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is canvassing the private sector to determine the potential value of leasing or privatizing the Pennsylvania Turnpike, along with studying the pluses and minuses of such a move.
The state is also taking steps to make sure private firms protect the public from excessive toll increases.
“Though the protection of the public will be our number-one priority, we must consider [privatization] if we are to keep toll rates reasonable and generate enough money to make major improvements in our state's transportation system without burdensome tax increases,” said Gov. Edward Rendell.
The specter of higher tolls is what worries truckers the most about privatization.
“We strongly oppose the lease or sale of existing toll roads, bridges or tunnels to private parties,” said Bill Graves, president & CEO of the American Trucking Assns. (ATA). “We call on government to abandon these financing techniques, which generate revenue at great expense to the trucking industry and taxpayers and with potential negative impacts on highway safety, security and the motoring public.”
Graves said the trucking industry would rather aim for a toll-free national highway system, where funds to finance highway improvement primarily come from highway user fees, such as fuel taxes.
Lisa Mullings, president & CEO of NATSO (National Association of Truck Stop Operators) said that tolls represent a system of double taxation for truckers, who already pay 40% of all highway user fees. Tolls also divert traffic onto secondary roads that are not equipped to handle this traffic, resulting in higher accident rates and damage to these secondary roads.