Jennifer D. Wade Journal

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As the Turnpike Turns

When last we left, THIS was the status of the epic public relations struggle between the PA Turnpike Commission, which wants to put tolls on Interstate 80, and Pennsylvania Transportation Partners, the international consortium which thinks it can run the Turnpike better than the Turnpike Commission.

To recap, in early July, state lawmakers decided not to vote on PTP's proposal to lease the Turnpike, almost - but not quite - killing the plan.  A week or so later, the Turnpike Commission followed with an update on its plan to turn I-80 into a toll road.  Basically, there will be toll plazas, but no one will actually be there to take tolls.  You will either pay by EZ Pass, or they will send you the bill in the mail.

Now comes word that the PTC has submitted this revised plan to the feds for their consideration.  The submission happened Tuesday.  I'm not entirely sure it's worth an update because this is a soap opera and you can't expect major plot points to happen on Tuesdays.  But, you can't just skip Tuesday, either, or you might be lost when Wednesday rolls around.

Anyway, what happened Tuesday was that the PTC sent in a revamped proposal asking for permission to turn a federal highway into a state toll road.  HERE'S a link.  Read it at your own risk.  Basically, it seems to indicate that this revised proposal is much more detailed than the first one.  But, the detail that everyone wants to know - exactly where the toll plazas will be - is still being worked out.  They'll file an amendment sometime in August.  If - and that's a big if - the feds give the OK, we could be on the road to seeing tolls on 80 sometime in 2010.

Now, back to the other plan - the one to lease the turnpike to foreigners.  As I implied earlier, it's not dead yet.  In fact, as of Wednesday, it had new life!  PTP, as they like to be called, put out THIS news release which alleges increasing public support for leasing the turnpike and which graciously gives the state until the end of September to agree to the deal or risk falling into a giant pothole.

I'm not a big fan of either one of these ideas.  But, so far, I'd have to say that PTP is winning the PR war.  Their news releases have a friendlier tone and a more positive spin.  Compare that to the PTC, which fills its news releases with mysteriously obtuse phrases such as "planning organization consultation" and "in-depth physical condition assessment."  I'm also not convinced that two toll roads are better than one.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow ...

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