from the inbox:
State Rep. Steven J. Santarsiero, D-Bucks, today called for greater public accountability on legislation that would create a board to allow public-private transportation partnerships to lease, build or operate state roads and bridges.
Santarsiero, who voted against H.B. 3 in the House Transportation Committee today, said the legislation would fast track the leasing of highways and bridges without valuable public input and disclosure. House Bill 3 would create a seven-member board to enter into agreements with private corporations from around the world to operate, maintain, construct and enforce the collection of tolls on highways, bridges, tunnels, overpasses and other similar transportation facilities in Pennsylvania.
"I am not ready to give private companies – very possibly from foreign countries – the authority to toll our roads and bridges in Southeastern Pennsylvania without public hearings and comment on this," Santarsiero said. "We have to look no further than the Scudder Falls Bridge to see an example of how a non-legislative body can decide to toll our infrastructure without elected officials and their constituents having any vote in the matter. It truly is taxation without representation."
The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, which operates the Scudder Falls Bridge, is pursuing a public-private partnership to rebuild and maintain the bridge, which carries I-95 from Lower Makefield Township, Bucks County to New Jersey. The partnership will institute a ticketless toll to motorists on the new bridge. Santarsiero said neither the elected officials from the area nor their constituents have a vote on this.
Santarsiero said he supported a motion to table the bill at today's meeting in order to allow for public hearings on the measure. When that motion failed, he voted against reporting the bill out. However, the bill was reported out of committee and sent to the full House for consideration where it could be voted on as early as next week.
"Today's action to move House Bill 3 without public hearings is a move to stifle public input, and further rejects the opportunity to explore amendments – especially related to public safety – to strengthen the bill,"
Santarsiero said. "It is a dangerous abdication of the responsibility our constituents have entrusted to us."
Santarsiero said Republican leaders believe this legislation is necessary to address the multi-billion-dollar transportation crisis in Pennsylvania. "But the fact is it would only be able to address the more heavily travelled roads and bridges – a disproportionate number here in the more heavily populated Southeastern Pennsylvania – and therefore only address about 15 percent of the total problem statewide," he explained.
"While there are certainly potentially good matches for public-private transportation partnerships, there must be accountability to communities, taxpayers and motorists," Santarsiero added. "There is no reason we as public officials can't consider each application on a case-by-case basis in order to accommodate the concerns of local residents and their communities."