Parkway East Relief? State Officials Tout Promise of Public-Private Partnerships

Article excerpt

Would a private company agree to build new express lanes along the traffic-choked Parkway East in exchange for the right to collect tolls from the drivers who use them?

State Rep. Rick Geist, outgoing chair of the House Transportation Committee, was unequivocal: "I know it's going to happen."

Mr. Geist, Gov. Tom Corbett and other officials gathered in New Kensington on Wednesday for a ceremonial signing of House Bill 3, which authorizes public-private partnerships to improve transportation facilities. The governor actually signed the bill into law in July.

Those in attendance said the law will stimulate private investment in public highways, bridges and other facilities, advancing projects that governments can't afford on their own.

"We really don't know exactly where an increase in public- private partnerships will lead, but we know that status quo hasn't been working," Mr. Corbett said. "Pennsylvania annually comes up short in the amount of money needed for our transportation system. The old models for funding transportation, notably the motor fuels tax, have not delivered everything we needed."

A state advisory commission in 2010 estimated that state spending was $3.5 billion per year below the level needed to bring transportation infrastructure to good repair.

With Pennsylvania leading the nation in deficient bridges and seeing its overall road quality deteriorate, there is little money to build new highway capacity.

Mr. Geist said he already has been approached by engineering companies that have concepts for new lanes on the parkway, including stacking them on overpasses or opening the Squirrel Hill Tunnels to the sky.

"I think you're going to see some amazing things happen. I would think the Parkway East was one of the early candidates (for a partnership)," he said.

State Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch said he thinks someone will propose a public-private partnership to add lanes on the parkway because of the heavy traffic volume and potential to generate toll revenue. …