This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I’m generally opposed to the idea of privately-run infrastructure, for a myriad of reasons, but this New York Times story on Pennsylvania’s tolling of I-80 suggests that there may be one benefit to such an approach that I’d thusfar overlooked:

The push to charge tolls along I-80 followed legislators’ rejection of Mr. Rendell’s proposal to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to private investors, an approach taken in Illinois, Indiana and Virginia. Lawmakers were wary that the investors might raise tolls too quickly.

The governor continues to support that idea, though, because the proceeds could be used for more than highway repairs alone. Under the bill passed last July, as well as federal rules, revenue from tolls on I-80 can be spent only on that Interstate.

There’s been a lot of talk around here, most recently between Josh Feit and Will @ HA as to how much of a regional toll could be used for transit. I think they were talking past each other a bit, but the central question is relevant: how much will people tolerate their tolls being used for other purposes?

Gov. Rendell’s strategy seems like an interesting end-around. You lease the highway to a private company, and the revenues go into some general fund — or some general transportation fund, better — and so you’ve got some insulation. The challenge, of course, is to make sure that it gets spent wisely, and that the private company doesn’t pull a Halliburton and rip us all off. But it does have the advantage of getting around whatever State laws might restrict the funds.

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