The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission should improve its contracting procedures and business practices, an advisory panel said Tuesday.

The three-member panel was created last year by the Turnpike Commission to review its practices after a grand jury investigation of the agency resulted in criminal charges against eight people.

Three former top officials of the turnpike await trial on charges related to alleged bid-rigging and influence-peddling. Two turnpike employees pleaded guilty to charges of theft and unauthorized use of a state vehicle, and were sentenced to probation.

Charges were dropped against three others, including a former state senator, a turnpike vendor, and a business consultant.

In urging the commission to adopt changes in 10 areas, the panel said the changes would help "institutionalize a culture of ethics, efficiency, and transparency at the PTC."

The advisory panel said the commission must change its business practices "to maintain the public's trust and remain a trusted public partner."

The panel, made up of a retired Superior Court judge, a former chief engineer for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and a retired law professor, also recommended that the commission coordinate better with PennDot to reduce duplication of services.

The panel acknowledged that changes already made in response to the grand jury investigation had improved internal safeguards.

The agency should make additional improvements in four general areas, the panel said: ethics, procurement, transparency and accountability, and governance.

The agency should strengthen ethics training for employees and vendors, add an independent professional to review major bid projects, and prepare a succession plan for replacing key officials, including the chief operating officer, chief engineer, and all department heads, the panel said.

And the commission needs more transparency and communication with the public and state officials, the panel said.

Turnpike chief executive Mark Compton said Tuesday, "We have come a long way in creating a culture of ethics, efficiency, and transparency at the Turnpike. I am looking forward to reviewing this report to continue our efforts."

The panel members are Maureen E. Lally-Green of Butler County, a retired judge and a member of the state Board of Education; M.G. Patel of Cumberland County, a former PennDot chief highway engineer and construction company executive; and John L. Gedid of Cumberland County, a former vice dean of the Widener University law school and a retired law professor.

The full report is available at www.paturnpike.com.