HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania should make wholesale changes to its request for federal approval to add tolls to I-80 and pursue a private lease for the Pennsylvania Turnpike, according to a study released yesterday.
The Reason Foundation, a free-market think tank in Los Angeles, said toll income should be designated to modernize the interstate and add truck-only lanes so longer and heavier tractor-trailers can use it.
It critiqued a study, issued last month by Pennsylvania House Democrats, that identified problems with leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike, saying the study failed to account for ways a company could operate the road more efficiently.
It described the turnpike as one of the nation's least efficient toll-road operations.
"You could make a lot of money, which is why the private sector would bid a large amount upfront, because there's large opportunities for cost-cutting," said Robert W. Poole Jr., a coauthor of the study.
The turnpike's overhead percentage ranked third-highest among the 35 U.S. and foreign toll organizations the foundation studied, but the turnpike said the study had used incorrect expense numbers.
"We can paint the opposite picture here, with independent verification," turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said.
The House Democratic Caucus study, "For Whom the Road Tolls: Corporate Asset or Public Good," argued that a turnpike lease would be a less effective way to raise transportation money than I-80 tolls.
A state law passed last summer authorized as many as 10 toll-collection sites on I-80 as part of a plan to raise billions of dollars for roads, bridges and mass transit. But the prospect of new tolls has generated significant political opposition, particularly among people and businesses in the interstate corridor.
The Reason Foundation's proposal for a truck-only lane would be expensive to build and enforce, said Bob Caton, spokesman for House Majority Whip Keith R. McCall (D., Carbon).
"These guys reached a conclusion, then tried to find data to support their conclusion that letting a private company run everything in the world is the right way to go," Caton said.
In the next several weeks, Democratic Gov. Rendell will ask companies to submit bids on a long-term turnpike lease, and he plans to submit the best offer to the legislature as a possible alternative to tolling I-80.
To read the Reason Foundation's study, go to
To read a summary of the House Democratic study, go to