Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cutting Pike Agency's Duties Weighed Penndot Would Oversee All Interstate Roads

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cutting Pike Agency's Duties Weighed Penndot Would Oversee All Interstate Roads

Article excerpt

The Pennsylvania Senate has ordered an 18-month review that's supposed to determine whether the state's Department of Transportation and its Turnpike Commission could combine services on interstate highways.

But in reality, the study likely will look at whether the state needs the Turnpike Commission for anything other than handling debt service. And it could go a long way to deciding how the state can cover a $450 million annual payment the turnpike makes to PennDOT to subsidize public transit when it drops to $50 million in 2023.

A Senate resolution sponsored by Republicans John Rafferty of Montgomery County and Scott Hutchinson of Oil City requires the Joint State Government Commission to study the issue and prepare a report in 18 months. Mr. Rafferty is chairman of the transportation committee and Mr. Hutchinson heads the finance committee.

The commission, which every member of the General Assembly belongs to, has a staff that may do the study itself or it could hire a consultant, said Nolan Ritchie, executive director of the transportation committee.

Right now, the turnpike commission handles the main turnpike and other toll roads in the state, all of which are interstate highways maintained by toll receipts. PennDOT handles the other interstate highways - as well as all other state highways - through grants, motor license fees and borrowing.

Mr. Ritchie said consolidating interstate operations at the agencies could go two ways: PennDOT could turn over its responsibility for non-toll interstate highways to the turnpike and concentrate on other roads, bridges and transit, or the turnpike could cede toll roads to PennDOT. If the latter happened, the turnpike would be left with no operational duties other than collecting tolls and paying debt service.

"I would say both options are on the table," Mr. Ritchie said.

Both agencies say they welcome the detailed review of their operations. …

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