The PJ Tatler

RIP PA Turnpike Commission?

I lived in Pennsylvania, and the PA turnpike was one of the most depressing – and monotonous – roads I’ve ever driven.  It would make a 90-minute drive seem like 9 hours.  There’s a saying that the PA Turnpike has one executive for every mile of road.  Now, it seems that the commission itself may be dissolved for good.  Melissa Daniels reported in on April 18 that:

Pennsylvania has two transportation agencies. One controls more than 40,000 miles of state roads and 25,000 bridges, and another maintains 545 miles of tolled highway.

The former has seven executives, one for every 5,857 miles of roadway; the latter nine executives, one for every 60 miles of roadway.

For a group of Republican lawmakers, this doesn’t add up, especially when one of those agencies was the subject of a 44-month long grand jury investigation over alleged bid-rigging.

Standing alongside a dozen other GOP lawmakers, Rep. Donna Oberlander, R-Clarion, introduced legislation Wednesday to abolish the “corruption-infested”Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and fold the route’s operation and tolling into the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

“I believe that PennDOT is uniquely qualified and more than capable of handling the additional 545 miles of turnpike roadway and bridges,” she said.

Oberlander said it’s redundant for taxpayers to foot two bills for the agencies, and the legislation would cut down on government bureaucracy.

House Bill 1197 would create a Bureau of Toll Administration within PennDOT to manage turnpike tolling. The state would honor all collective bargaining agreements with union employees, though the commission itself would be eliminated.

Additionally, Brad Bumsted of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote earlier this month that:

a state grand jury last month outlined a culture of corruption enveloping the Turnpike Commission. Contractors who provided gifts to turnpike officials and made campaign donations to selected lawmakers and gubernatorial candidates tended to get inside information and won contracts through rigged bids, the grand jury contended. Eight people, including the former turnpike chairman and CEO, face criminal charges.

The Turnpike Commission long has been a patronage nest for politicians, but the grand jury report showed that evolved to a new level, Oberlander said.

“Given the corruption alleged by the grand jury, the timing couldn’t be any better,” Oberlander said about her proposal.

PA Turnpike Grand Jury Presentment by PAindy