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Pennsylvania Toll Lobbying Battle Fails to Sway Public
Public opinion poll shows voters uninterested in tolling Interstate 80 or leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike, despite advertising blitz.

Interstate 80 and Turnpike
Public opinion is against the two tolling options presented by state officials as solutions to Pennsylvania's transportation needs, according to a poll released yesterday by Quinnipiac University. Interest groups have bombarded the public with slick advertising campaigns involving mass mailings and online videos in an attempt to sway opinion in favor of either leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a foreign company or adding tolls to the Interstate 80 freeway (more info). The survey of 1,580 Pennsylvania voters suggested that the ads have not been effective.

"Voters continue to give Governor [Ed] Rendell a positive approval rating even though they don't like his handling of the budget and overwhelmingly reject his proposals, including billions for the Turnpike and tolls on Interstate 80 -- the centerpieces of his program to raise revenue for the state's transportation system," said Clay F. Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The tolling options are also being heavily promoted by parties with an interest in the billions of dollars at stake in the two alternatives. On one side, Abertis Infraestructuras, a Spanish company, joined with Citigroup to offer Pennsylvania officials $12.8 billion in return for the right to tax turnpike motorists until the year 2085. The poll found 60 percent of voters opposed the concept with only 29 percent in support. Opposition was highest among Republicans and male voters.

On the other side, the Pennsylvania Turnpike seeks to defend existing jobs tolling turnpike motorists and to raise additional billions by installing tollbooths on I-80, a vital commercial route that motorists have been using freely. Voters opposed I-80 tolling with a slightly greater 63 percent majority with 29 percent support. Opposition in the northwest region of the state ran 77 percent.

The poll had a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points. It showed essentially no change in opinion on tolling from surveys conducted last month and in November 2007.

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