Pennsylvania senate passes bill that would allow state, local transportation authorities to partner with private groups to provide funding; bill intended to address US$3.5B annual shortfall in funds for roads, bridges

GRAIN VALLEY, Missouri , December 16, 2011 () – Authorization for the Pennsylvania DOT to partner with private groups to get work done on existing transportation infrastructure is one step closer to reality.

OOIDA officials say truckers already pay taxes and other user fees to access freeways. As a result, charging tolls on existing roads would amount to an additional tax.

“Tolls are taxes, and paying both tolls and fuel taxes amounts to double taxation,” Association leadership states in its list of highway funding principles. “OOIDA adamantly opposes the sale or lease of existing roads and efforts to convert non-tolled roads into toll facilities.”

The Pennsylvania Senate voted 49-1 on Wednesday, Dec. 14 to advance a bill that is intended to help address an estimated $3.5 billion annual shortfall in funds needed for roads, bridges and transit. The bill would allow state government and local transportation authorities to partner with private groups to provide funding.

The bill – SB344 – now moves to the House for further consideration. A nearly identical House version – HB3 – could come up for a vote within the next week.

Advocates of public-private partnerships say mounting pressures to simply maintain existing transportation infrastructure is reason enough to innovate and adapt to overcome those challenges.

Rep. Rick Geist, R-Blair, said the state needs to be in the business of partnering to fund repairs on highways and bridges.

“There are projects that people are looking at, and they are ready to go,” Geist previously told lawmakers.

One group he recently identified that is ready to do business in the state is Goldman Sachs. The company has frequented capitols around the country for years touting the benefits of signing over state assets to private developers.

Opponents say the private sector option would not adequately address the state’s highway funding needs. Others say the method benefits only high-traffic areas and does nothing to help the state’s rural areas.

If approved, a seven-member board would be created to review toll proposals. The Senate version would allow four state lawmakers to sit on the board.

Before any deal could be green-lighted by the board the Pennsylvania General Assembly would get a 20-day window to vote on the project.

Ryan Bowley, OOIDA’s director of legislative affairs, said he is concerned that Pennsylvania officials view public-private partnerships as a quick fix to years of mismanaging transportation revenue highlighted by the state’s $3.5 billion annual shortfall.

“In resorting to tolls they essentially are trying to hide the fact that they have had decades of poor management decisions in terms of investing limited transportation dollars,” Bowley said.

Bowley said that truckers and motorists are left to pay for the state’s bad decisions.

Despite the late date on the calendar, the bill does not face any pressing deadlines. Year two of the state’s two-year session begins in early January.

OOIDA encourages Pennsylvania members to contact their state lawmakers about the legislation.

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