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Official: Tickets take toll on E-Z Pass

| Thursday, Feb. 6, 2003

For Joseph G. Brimmeier, there's one particular problem with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's E-Z Pass system: Sometimes getting through prepay toll lanes isn't so easy.

That's why eliminating combination E-Z Pass and ticket lanes at toll booths is at the top of Brimmeier's to-do list as newly appointed executive director of the Turnpike Commission.

"People who buy the E-Z Pass shouldn't have to wait. It makes no sense. I only want E-Z Pass in those lanes," Brimmeier, 54, of Ross, said Wednesday.

Brimmeier said eliminating the combination E-Z Pass and ticket lanes is an immediate concern, and he began working on the problem yesterday. He said he plans to eliminate the money portion of the combination lanes, leaving only the E-Z Pass lane.

E-Z Pass users prepay turnpike tolls in an account, allowing them to drive nonstop through a marked E-Z Pass lane at toll booths, at 5 mph, without having to use tickets or money. E-Z Pass debuted in the Pittsburgh area more than a year ago.

More than 1,200 vehicles per hour can move through an average E-Z Pass lane, about four times the traditional ticket lane rate, according to the commission. But because combination E-Z Pass and ticket lanes have been utilized, the prepay toll system's benefits have been reduced for some users.

Another goal of Brimmeier's — completion of the $4 billion Mon-Fayette Expressway and Southern Beltway — figures to be a tougher challenge than reforming E-Z Pass.

The vast, 100-mile toll road network, which would link Pittsburgh to Interstate 68 near Morgantown, W.Va., has been 30 years in the making. A 24-mile segment through Allegheny County and into Pittsburgh has been a focal point of debate.

Part of Brimmeier's job, he says, will be playing an intermediary role between the commission and people concerned about the project's impact.

"I will act as the person that puts both sides together," said Brimmeier, who's being paid $149,000 annually in his new post. "I intend to work closely with Mayor (Tom) Murphy to see it through to completion."

And Brimmeier, a key Democratic player for more than 30 years, says he has the connections needed to help push the project forward. He served as chief of staff to ex-U.S. Rep. Ron Klink, a Murrysville Democrat, and was senior consultant for Gov. Ed Rendell during last year's gubernatorial campaign.

"I also bring to the table that I know the operations of D.C. and Congress and the lobbying needed to get additional funding for projects," Brimmeier said.

Brimmeier was appointed Monday to the executive director's post. Mitchell Rubin, newly elected Turnpike Commission chairman, said Brimmeier's appointment essentially was Rendell's decision.

Formerly Monroeville's manager and an aide to the late Tom Foerster, the longtime Allegheny County commissioner, Brimmeier's name came up in a federal investigation of state Rep. Frank Gigliotti, a Brookline Democrat. Gigliotti admitted to receiving $32,000 in bribes from contractors seeking lucrative state pacts, and was sentenced to 46 months in prison on extortion and fraud charges. Brimmeier was not implicated.

In 1991, Brimmeier lost to Michael Coyne in the Democratic primary for Allegheny County prothonotary.

Brimmeier replaces John Durbin, who had been the Turnpike Commission's executive director since 1995.

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