Spain to run America’s 1st superhighway?

$12.8 billion deal would turn over control of Pennsylvania Turnpike

Posted: May 19, 2008
9:06 pm Eastern

© 2008 WorldNetDaily

Stretching through the rural countryside with limited access and no speed limit in 1940, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was built to resemble Germany’s autobahn. Now thanks to a $12.8 billion dollar offer, it may soon become Spain’s.

According to a report in the Philadelphia Daily News, Gov. Ed Rendell has announced that Abertis Infraestructuras of Barcelona has offered the top dollar bid to the state of Pennsylvania for the rights to manage the toll road under a 75-year lease.

The highway could become just the latest in a string of U.S. infrastructure landmarks to be operated by foreign companies.

In 2004, management of the Chicago Skyway, a stretch of elevated road connecting I-90 and I-94, was granted to Cintra, another Spanish operation that outbid Abertis at $1.83 billion. Abertis lost out to Cintra again when the Indiana Toll Road was taken over in 2006 for $3.8 billion.

This time, Abertis beat out Cintra and other firms, hoping to add the Pennsylvania Turnpike to its list of operations including toll roads in Spain, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Chile, Colombia and Argentina. Abertis also operates airports, including the airports in Orlando, Fla.; Burbank, Calif.; and one concourse of the Atlanta airport.

Even though the controversial Dubai ports deal was squashed by public outcry in 2006, foreign firms have nonetheless purchased long-term leases on other American transportation networks.

The Chicago Skyway is tied up for 99 years. The Indiana Toll Road is leased for 75. As WND reported earlier this year, Chicago is seeking a more than 50-year lease on Midway Airport. Among the potential suitors for Midway are 6 international firms, including Abertis.

The leases are being made possible through an increasingly common practice of establishing “public-private partnerships” (PPP’s), contracts between public agencies and private entities that enable private sector participation in public transportation.

Many of the PPP’s implemented in the U.S. bring large up-front cash infusions. In both the proposed Midway and Pennsylvania Turnpike offers, the billions in cash are touted as a quick solution to shoring up under-funded government employee pension funds.

Many, however, see an imminent threat in turning over U.S. infrastructure to foreign companies.

“The USA is up for sale,” an attendee of a conference in Colorado to discuss PPPs told WND. “Whatever the public now owns – roads, ports, waste management water systems, rail lines, public parking facilities, airports, even lotteries and sports stadiums – are up for grabs and the only requirement is that the foreigners have the cash.”

Even William Capone, the director of communications for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, told WND in a telephone interview earlier this year, “We don’t favor turning the Pennsylvania Turnpike into a private entity through a PPP lease. If we keep the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the hands of a public entity, we believe we can actually invest more dollars into roads than a private corporation could do.”

“Besides,” he said, “the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is not profit-driven, so we don’t have to generate profits to pay shareholders the way a PPP would have to operate.”

Rendell, however, is now advocating the proposal that would turn his state’s best known road over to Abertis. Rendell called the plan “a very good deal for Pennsylvanian drivers and taxpayers” and is urging lawmakers to move the highway – 359 miles of east-west routes and another northeast extension – into private hands by September.

The proposal still has to go through the Pennsylvania legislature, a decision that is likely to be hotly contested. Many in the capital are hoping Act 44, a law passed by the state legislature in 2007 to make I-80 a toll road as well, will stem the financial crisis and deflate the impetus for accepting the Turnpike proposal.

According to the newspaper report, the toll road plan with Abertis allows the newcomer to raise tolls 25 percent year and 2.5 percent or the rate of inflation every year after that.

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