Jennifer D. Wade Journal

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When in Doubt, Do a Study

OK.  So, you know how more and more state lawmakers lately seem to be backing the plan to privatize the Turnpike if it means there won't have to be tolls on 80?  Well, turns out, there's gonna be a study.
Rep. Joseph MARKOSEK (D) chairs the House Transportation Committee in Harrisburg.  In a news release dated January 11, Markosek announced that a study is being commissioned to, well, study the idea of leasing the Turnpike.  Said study, to be done by academic types from PSU and Harvard, will examine whether leasing the Turnpike is a good idea when compared to the provisions (i.e. tolls on 80) included in last year's Act 44.
The news release states that the House Dems are still committed to tolling 80, but they're going to spend $75K to gather information which they can use in a fight against the anti-tolling forces brewing over in the Senate (see THIS entry).
The study is supposed to be completed in about a month.  Here's the entire release if you're interested:
House Transportation Committee Chairman Joseph Markosek, D-Allegheny/Westmoreland, and House Democratic leaders today announced the commission of a study regarding the lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The study, to be performed by professors from Harvard and Penn State universities, will examine and evaluate key aspects of a proposal to lease the Turnpike; specifically looking at whether it makes financial sense and constitutes sound public policy for the Commonwealth to lease the Turnpike to for-profit or nonprofit corporations in comparison to the provisions in Act 44 of 2007. Act 44 established the funding mechanism to repair the state's roads and bridges and mass transit systems of all sizes.
The Democratic leaders stressed their commitment to Act 44 but said the study is needed in order to gather as much information as possible if forced to the table to discuss the issue with their Senate counterparts.
“Act 44 represents a carefully deliberated and realistic path to repairing, maintaining and improving our transportation infrastructure, most notably our deteriorating roads and bridges" Markosek said. “We are confident of its merits and are in no way abandoning our commitment to implementing that historic measure. But it would be irresponsible to not prepare ourselves if forced to deliberate an option that is now receiving serious consideration from the governor and some of our Senate counterparts."
Part of the funding raised under Act 44 will come from implementing tolls on Interstate 80. The state plans to design a toll system that will minimize the effect on local travelers who make up a minority of the road’s users. Most of I-80 drivers either operate commercial vehicles or vehicles from outside Pennsylvania.
House Majority Whip Keith McCall, D-Carbon, said he and Majority Leader Bill DeWeese believe the study is now more critical than ever because the House could be sent a plan by the Senate to lease the Turnpike to private investors.
"It's a shame that some lawmakers have been so quick to abandon Act 44," McCall said. "The majority of traffic on I-80 is passing through from other states. As those motorists pass through, they're handing Pennsylvania taxpayers the bill for repairing the damage they leave behind. Tolling I-80 allows the state to equalize the impact on motorists across the state and provides the funds necessary to make our roads and bridges safer."
Markosek said the principal author of the study will be John Foote, a senior fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University who has written extensively on the topic of toll road concessions and is considered a national leader in that area. Gary Gray, visiting professor of finance at Penn State-University Park, and Patrick Cusatis, assistant professor of finance at Penn State-Harrisburg, also will be involved directly in the study, which is expected to cost up to $75,000 and be completed by mid-February.  
"Right now we know that Turnpike tolls would have to be doubled at the very least in order to raise the same revenue that would be generated under Act 44," Markosek said. "We are eager to learn more comparisons and from people who have spent their careers studying this type of issue in academia."

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