Corbett, Geist pitch law for private investment in public projects

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Gov. Tom Corbett and other officials expressed optimism today that a new state law will stimulate private investment in public highways, bridges and other transportation facilities, advancing projects that governments can't afford on their own.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Rick Geist, an Altoona Republican and sponsor of the law allowing public-private partnerships on transportation projects, said private interests have already come forward with ideas including widening of the traffic-choked Parkway East.

"It is absolutely doable," he said.

Mr. Geist said he has been approached about a major project involving coal, shale gas and railroad improvements but declined to give more details, saying he pledged confidentiality.

He said there are at least 14 major projects in the state that are "low-hanging fruit" that will quickly garner interest from private investors.

Officials said private investment could develop the long-sought commuter rail line from the Allegheny Valley to Pittsburgh, improve the district's aging locks and dams and increase freight capacity.

Proposals for public-private partnerships would go before a new seven-member board made up of the state transportation and budget secretaries and members appointed by the governor and legislative leaders. The Legislature would have the ability to override the panel's decisions but would have to act within 20 days.

Thirty-three states have similar laws that have produced public-private partnerships to expand or build highways, he said.

In a typical deal, private interests pay to build the new capacity in exchange for the right to operate it and collect tolls.

At a ceremonial bill signing in New Kensington -- Mr. Corbett actually signed the legislation into law in July -- the Republican governor and other officials cited a nearly completed privately financed project to add express lanes that will have varied tolls on the Capital Beltway in northern Virginia.

The governor said the law will help the state provide needed transportation improvements "in an age of shortage, of economic difficulties."

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Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868.


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