Green for green cards, foreign nationals invest in PA Turnpike

Interstate 95 runs from Maine to Florida with just one interruption.

It’s in Pennsylvania, of course. Specifically, in Bristol Township, Bucks County, just outside Philadelphia.

But crews are working to close that gap. The turnpike has a cool animation on its website showing what the new road will look like. It will smoothly link I-95 and Pennsylvania Turnpike. The project has been on the Turnpike’s Christmas wish list since the 1980’s.

But it’s been too rich for Santa, so it hasn’t happened.

“It’s very important,” said Mark Compton, Turnpike CEO. “It’s vital to national interests, vital to connectivity of the entire system and vital to the economy.”

Ground was broken in summer, 2013. The $400 million construction is underway thanks in part to foreign funding from the EB-5 visa program.

EB-5 gives citizenship to foreign nationals and their families who invest at least $500,000 in federally approved projects.

The invested money is then lent for less to entities like the Turnpike.

“You can 2-percent money as opposed to 4-percent money on the regular bond market,” Compton said. “This enables us to get money a whole lot cheaper.” It’s estimated that the Turnpike will save $35 million dollars in interest on the I-95 project.

The EB-5 program was created by the Immigration Act of 1990. It was billed as a way to create jobs in America by enticing investment in return for citizenship. But the citizenship clock doesn’t start to tick until the money is plowed into projects and it’s proven that people have been put to work.

“The number that we had to reach was 4,000 jobs,” Compton said. “Our impact analysis showed that we’d get 5,000 jobs.”

But immigration has been a touchy topic lately and EB-5 is generating negative buzz.

Even though US Homeland Security screens the foreign investors, who then still must go through a several-year citizenship process, many Midstaters are still uneasy about the concept of giving green cards to foreigners and their families who invest lots of green.

“That doesn’t sound right to me,” said Joyce Cox of Harrisburg. “It’s not kosher. We do enough selling off of our country.”

Sonya Parker of Halifax was more direct. “That’s bull$%#@. That’s crap,” Parker said.

But Turnpike officials prefer to emphasize the $35 million they’ll save in interest payments, and they prefer to focus on where the money is going, not where it came from. And, of course, they dream of the day that Pennsylvania is no longer the only interruption on one of America’s most important highways.

“It’ll be a much easier commute for those who are there, and a much safer ride for those who are traveling,” Compton said. “And the economic benefits will be far and wide for that region.”

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