"I'm going to keep pushing. This is not finished."
By Paul Nussbaum
The $12.8 billion bid to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike expired yesterday, effectively ending current efforts to lease the toll road to a Spanish-U.S. consortium.
With the death of the leasing proposal and the recent rejection by the federal government of Pennsylvania's effort to place tolls on I-80, the state finds itself short about $450 million it was counting on for transportation projects.
Legislative leaders had made it clear the lease proposal, supported by Gov. Rendell, was unlikely to be voted on during the current election-shortened legislative session.
"We're not extending the bid," said James Courtovich, an adviser for the consortium. "We want to keep an active engagement with the governor, but this offer is over."
Pennsylvania Transportation Partners, the consortium formed by Abertis Infraestructuras S.A. of Barcelona, Spain, and Citi Infrastructure Investors of New York, offered to pay the state $12.8 billion for the right to operate the turnpike for 75 years. Rendell said that payment could be invested to generate about $1 billion a year for transportation projects.
Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said yesterday the governor "remains committed to pursuing legislation to allow a lease of the turnpike. Should such legislation be enacted, it would be his hope to execute a lease with the Abertis/Citi team."
Supporters of the lease had hoped to gain more backing after the Sept. 11 rejection by the Federal Highway Administration of the plan to make I-80 a toll road. Introduction of tolls for I-80, the 311-mile interstate across northern Pennsylvania, was a core provision of a transportation funding law, Act 44, enacted by the legislature last year.
Without toll money from I-80, SEPTA and other mass-transit agencies stand to get $150 million a year less than anticipated, and highways and bridges will get $300 million a year less - a decrease of 50 percent by 2010.
Legislators said they will look for ways to fill the $450 million gap next year.
Some proposals have included higher gasoline taxes, increased motor vehicle fees, higher transit fares, and tolls on roads that are now free. Tolls are slated to rise by 25 percent on the Pennsylvania Turnpike next year.
Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and the sponsor of the bill authorizing the lease of the turnpike, said an increase in the gas tax was politically unacceptable, and fee and fare increases cannot raise enough money.
"Nobody has any other ideas," Evans said yesterday. "I still think leasing the turnpike is a viable option. If not them [Abertis-Citi], maybe someone else."
"I'm going to keep pushing. This is not finished," he said.
Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2008 Philadelphia Inquirer:www.philly.com
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