Who Really Owns the Roads?

Companies are buying leases of public highways, bridges and tunnels from states desperate to improve infrastructure

Joshua Lutz / Redux for TIME; Digitally altered for TIME

Companies are buying leases of public highways, bridges and tunnels from states desperately trying to improve infrastructure.

Pennsylvanians had been clamoring for a new road between Philadelphia and Lancaster for years, but the government just couldn't afford it. So in 1792 the state chartered a company that would build the nation's first private turnpike--62 miles (100 km) of stone and gravel--in exchange for the right to collect tolls. Today Pennsylvania finds itself in a similar bind, with the money it needs for roads and bridges far outstripping the money it gets from the gas tax and other revenue streams. So Governor Ed Rendell is turning back the clock, proposing a slew of deals with the private sector, starting...

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