Despite a brand new website with a section labeled "transparency," the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) denied PennFuture's Right to Know Law request, which sought information about the agency's proposal to rip through the Allegheny ridge in order to eliminate the Allegheny tunnels.
PennFuture attempted to access the documents on behalf of its client, the Mountain Field and Stream Club, which owns and conserves the land along the ridge that will be destroyed if the tunnels are turned into an open cut. Rather than release any documents, the PTC made a number of legal arguments about why it did not need to release any information that would provide public insight into its decision making process and, instead, directed us to its project page. However, the project page appears to have been last updated in 2013. The PTC even sought to hide documents relating to its last decision to not proceed with this project, back in 1996.
Among the highlights in the agency's response denying our request:
- Despite the fact that the PTC has its own website about the project, the Commission claims to not know what documents we are seeking in its response.
- Even though our request sought the hard data that supposedly supports its need for the project, the PTC denied access to the documents under a claim that it concerns "pre-decisional" discussions. Ironically, this includes a study that the PTC claims will "evaluate public involvement."
- The Commission says it hasn't made a decision on its "preferred alternative" and can keep the public in the dark until it makes that decision. That sure seems to us to defeat the point of transparent government that claims to include public involvement.
Valessa Souter-Kline is western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Pittsburgh. She tweets @ValessaSK.