Thursday, December 07, 2006

Rendell seeks bidders to own or lease Turnpike
Wednesday, December 06, 2006

By Tom Barnes, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HARRISBURG -- If you've ever wanted to buy or lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike, now's your chance, Gov. Ed Rendell said today.

He set Dec. 22 as a deadline for companies that want to give the state bids for buying or long-term leasing some or all of the 500-mile highway across Pennsylvania, including the Northeast Extension to Scranton.

He conceded that is an "aggressive'' timetable but said it's necessary.

Mr. Rendell said that based on preliminary conversations he's had, the sale/lease could bring the state anywhere from $3 billion to $30 billion. Whatever the price is, the money would be invested and the annual interest used to repair roads, bridges and mass transit systems.

If, for example, the turnpike was sold for $10 billion, the governor said the state should be able to get an annual revenue stream of $800 million or $900 million, which is about half of what a transportation study panel recently said was needed to make proper maintenance of roads and bridges and supply operating funds for the Allegheny County Port Authority, SEPTA in the Philadelphia area and other mass transit systems.

Mr. Rendell said he will make a recommendation to the General Assembly in late January on how to raise the estimated total of $1.7 billion a year in additional revenue that the study panel said is needed.

Even if the turnpike is sold or leased, it's likely that other additional revenue -- from tax increases -- will still be needed. Mr. Rendell wouldn't specify which ones, but the study report suggested a 12.5 cent a gallon increase in the gasoline tax, or higher sales taxes, personal income taxes or realty transfer taxes as a way to generate the money needed for roads, bridges and mass transit.

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