Report: 21st Century TransportationGovernment Transparency

Potential Problems with Turnpike Privatization Identified

Released by: PennPIRG

The Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group (PennPIRG) has identified several problems that could arise from privatizing the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  PennPIRG is a non-profit consumer advocacy group representing approximately 3,500 citizen members across the state.  PennPIRG’s core mission is to stand up for Pennsylvania consumers when corporate or government wrongdoing threatens our health and safety, or violates fundamental principles of fairness and justice.  PennPIRG has serious reservations about privatizing control over a major component of Pennsylvania transportation policy.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike is a major public asset worth billions of dollars, and its day-to-day operation directly impacts the lives of thousands of Pennsylvanians.  Pennsylvania businesses rely on the Turnpike to deliver goods to their doors, commuters use it to get to work, and students rely on it to get to and from school.  The Turnpike’s operation also affects the thousands of home owners who live nearby.  This can take the form of the impact noise and car emissions can have on the surrounding environment, increases and decreases in the traffic flow on local roads, billboard placement, or a myriad of other ways local communities can be affected.       

Governor Rendell has raised the possibility of leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private entity, and the General Assembly could vote on enabling legislation as early as April.  Any proposal to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike should be carefully scrutinized to ensure that Pennsylvania’s long-term public interests are met.  It is critically important that any potential plan maximizes the full range of the Turnpike’s public benefits over the life of the lease.  Focusing solely on the Commonwealth’s short term cash flow problems could significantly impair Pennsylvanian’s long term financial health, and negatively impact our transportation policy for decades to come.  The Turnpike is more than just a source of revenue; it is a vital component of our public infrastructure, and its operation is a keystone of Pennsylvania transportation policy.    

PennPIRG has identified several conditions that are necessary to ensure that a deal would retain control of transportation planning and management, guarantee high safety and maintenance standards, provide public participation and transparency, and be fiscally responsible in the long term.  In order to ensure that current and future generations of Pennsylvanians are not stuck with a bad deal, these and other conditions should be reflected in any authorization-to-negotiate law that the General Assembly enacts. 

PennPIRG understands that any conditions placed into an agreement are likely to decrease the amount of upfront money private entities are willing to pay for the exclusive right to operate the turnpike.  However, the only way to responsibly evaluate these agreements is to assess the public benefits of privatization over the entire length of the lease.  For privatization to make sense for Pennsylvania, we must be sure that it offers long-term value for the Commonwealth.


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