Pennsylvania State House Transportation Committee Chairman Rick Geist (R-Altoona) recently commended the governor for moving forward with exploring the feasibility of leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private firm in order to generate revenue that would help fund the state's ailing transportation infrastructure. Geist added that he and his committee have been intensely studying the concept of private/public partnerships for the past three years.
"I think it's wonderful that the governor has stepped forward to analyze just one model of potential public/private partnerships, that being the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and the income that it can generate for all transportation projects in Pennsylvania," Geist said. "I welcome the governor aboard what I think is the wave of the future in transportation."
The governor announced this week that the commonwealth would immediately begin soliciting expressions of interest from private firms to determine the potential value of leasing or privatizing the Turnpike.
"Public/private partnerships, such as leasing the Turnpike, would give us an additional source of revenue and would provide a more palatable alternative to imposing tax increases to fund Pennsylvania's immediate transportation infrastructure needs, which have reached a crisis level," Geist said. "I'm confident it would have a very positive economic impact on the restoration and renewal of Pennsylvania's roads, bridges and mass transit systems."
Geist was one of two Republicans appointed by the governor to serve on the Pennsylvania Transportation Funding and Reform Commission, which recently issued a report citing a $1.7 billion gap between Pennsylvania's immediate transportation infrastructure needs and the financial resources that are currently available. One of the commission's recommendations is to permit public/private partnerships to help finance highway and bridge repair, as well as mass transit.
Geist already has authored the enabling legislation that would permit public/private partnerships in Pennsylvania. He said that House Speaker John Perzel has indicated the legislation would be House Bill 1 of the 2007-2008 legislative session.
"Our committee has traveled to Illinois, Texas, Virginia and Florida in the last couple of years to see first-hand how public/private partnerships are improving transportation in all of its modalities," Geist said. "This concept is working around the country and around the world, and it can work in Pennsylvania, too."