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Pennsylvania Turnpike's cost efficiency questioned

| Friday, April 11, 2008

The Pennsylvania Turnpike is among the least cost-efficient toll roads in the nation, concludes a report issued Thursday.

The turnpike commission spends more than 62 percent of its money to operate its highways, according to the report by the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank based in Los Angeles. The report's release comes as state lawmakers consider leasing the turnpike to generate billions of dollars for highways, roads and bridges.

"Anyone who doesn't believe competition can make the Pennsylvania Turnpike a better, more efficient road is kidding themselves," said Robert Poole, the report's co-author.

Turnpike officials disputed the report, saying it relies on inaccurate numbers.

The commission's operating costs have increased 104 percent, from $181 million in fiscal 2000 to $370 million in fiscal 2007, the report said.

Commission spokesman Bill Capone said the numbers are wrong. The correct costs are $168.3 million in 2000 and $249.8 million in 2007, an increase of 48 percent, he said.

"They're showing that it more than doubled, and that's not the case," Capone said.

The numbers were taken from the commission's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, said report co-author Peter Samuel, a senior fellow at Reason and editor of .

The report says the commission spends more to operate its roads than all but two other toll agencies.

The Reason report said an analysis of the turnpike issued in March by House Democrats was flawed. That analysis showed a lease would not be beneficial.

"I was just appalled," Poole said. "The comparisons that it made were all strange."

State Rep. Joe Markosek, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, defended the Democrats' report and questioned whether Reason's financial supporters would potentially benefit from a turnpike lease.

"Until they divulge where they get their money, anything that they say should be taken with a grain of salt," he said.

Reason's report raises questions about the Democrats' study, said House Republican Leader Sam Smith, R-Jefferson County.

"Additionally, it shows that, at the very least, the turnpike commission needs to shake off some fat if they want to compete with the value a private lease potentially generates," he said.

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