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 PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 31 /PRNewswire/ -- First there was iced tea, the cool refreshing beverage served at family picnics ... then there was Ice T, the politically controversial rapper ... now the word has yet another meaning.
 "ISTEA" (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act) is an idea whose time is ripe during this season of political change. This act, originally enacted in 1991 and signed by President George Bush, has tremendous implications for the national economy, toll roads and the Pennsylvania Turnpike in particular.
 "This anti-recessional law is written to attract new public and private investment in the construction and upgrading of roads, bridges and tunnels," said Elizabeth Voras, strategic planner for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. "It is designed to stimulate the economy through job creation while at the same time making the infrastructure improvements necessary for long-term economic gains in the world market place."
 Indeed, the Clinton administration has talked about spending $20 billion to $30 billion more on infrastructure -- public works projects such as highways, bridges, railroads and water lines. And Pennsylvania's own Gov. Robert P. Casey implemented a program called "Operation Jump Start" to speed up highway construction and other state- financed public works projects. For both local and national politicians, investment in our transportation system spells economic recovery.
 ISTEA will fundamentally change the nature of both the toll industry and state and federal highway programs. Turnpike Executive Director John Sokol said, "The United States will never have enough money to do all that is needed to rebuild our infrastructure. This new law enables federal dollars to go further. Now doors will be open for toll projects to be a part of the puzzle."
 For the most part, previous law prohibited states from using federal funds for toll roads. "Now, not only are states allowed to utilize federal funds to improve existing toll facilities, convert existing free facilities to toll facilities and construct new toll facilities," said Voras, "states are also allowed to continue tolls on existing facilities after the initial construction costs are recovered, as long as excess revenue is used for highway or transit projects."
 The act also contains a provision that calls for a $4 billion payback to states that built roads without federal funds that went on to become part of the interstate system. The funding split is based on a 1957 U.S. Department of Commerce study recognizing the contribution these projects made to interstate commerce. For Pennsylvania, this means that approximately $257 million in federal funds should come to the state in the last two years of the act. "One hundred sixty million dollars of that money is a credit for the Pennsylvania Turnpike's successful undertaking of the original 160-mile toll road," said Louis R. Martin, chief counsel and coordinator of government funding. "In addition, state legislation was recently passed in Pennsylvania directly allocating a portion of the state's oil company franchise tax receipts to the Turnpike Commission."
 For the first time since the start of a national highway program in the United States, federal funds may be applied to a broad range of toll projects at the state and local level, including:
 -- the construction of new toll roads, bridges or tunnels that are not on the interstate system;
 -- the reconstruction, resurfacing, restoring and rehabilitating of existing toll facilities;
 -- the reconstruction and conversion of existing toll-free roads to toll facilities; and
 -- the reconstruction or replacement of existing toll-free bridges or tunnels, and their conversion to toll facilities.
 "Also important to the toll industry are the provisions relating to the enhanced role for local governments through required metropolitan planning," said Voras. Under ISTEA, the metropolitan planning organization in areas of more than 200,000 in population is responsible for developing, in cooperation with the state and affected transit operators, a long-range transportation plan and a transportation improvement program (TIP) for the area.
 At this point in time, both the Mon/Fayette Expressway in western Pennsylvania (through the Southwestern Pennsylvania Regional Planning Commission) and the I-95 Interchange project (through the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission) must go through this newly mandated process. The planning process must now include additional considerations such as land use, congestion alleviation, and Clean Air Act requirements. Intermodal methods to enhance transit service must also be considered. The term "intermodal" refers to different modes of transportation such as: rail, air, highways, busways and bicycle paths. A needs study must be completed to identify deficiencies in the existing transportation system.
 Federal participation is also permitted for the first time for preliminary toll feasibility studies and for the "private" development of road projects.
 In addition, state and toll agencies are now allowed to continue toll collection on federally funded projects after original debt obligations have been met. However, the state must ensure that toll revenues are used for continued operational costs, maintenance and other debt service relating to the project. The state must also ensure a reasonable rate of return on the investment of any private entity financing the project.
 "With regard to the private development of toll roads, toll projects can be privately owned," said Sokol, "provided the authorizing public agency enters into a contract with them to design, finance, construct and operate the project." In this instance, tolls may not be levied until the construction of the roadway is complete.
 -0- 8/31/93
 /CONTACT: Sally G. Branca of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, 717-939-9551, ext. 2850/

CO: Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission ST: Pennsylvania IN: TRN SU:

MJ-CC -- PH008 -- 7451 08/31/93 11:14 EDT
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Aug 31, 1993

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