Pa Turnpike Hiking Tolls by 6%

Planning a railfan excursion in central Pennsylvania this year, say, along the Pittsburgh Line of Norfolk Southern in the Allegheny Mountains?

Better take some extra cash because effective this Sunday (Jan. 7) the tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are going to rise by 6 percent.

It is the 10th consecutive year that the tolls have been jacked up, er, increased on the highway that people love to hate.

It is the second consecutive year that tolls have risen by 6 percent. Tolls have more than doubled since 2009.

Under the pending increase a passenger vehicle traveling from Ohio to New Jersey will cost $51.85 to $55, depending on the route chosen, for cash customers and from $37 to $39.25 for those with an E-ZPass.

Turnpike officials estimate that the average toll for cash-paying customers will be $2.10, while the average for E-ZPass customers will be $1.30. The average cash toll was 75 cents in 2008.

But those figures are averages that mean nothing to a motorist entering the Keystone State from the Ohio Turnpike.

You pay $7 just to enter Pennsylvania. Starting on Sunday that toll goes up to $7.45. The tolls for those with E-ZPass are $4.89 and $5.18 respectively pre- and post-toll hike.

In a news release, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission said tolls were being increased to meet funding obligations.

“The Turnpike Commission is obligated by state law to augment Pennsylvania’s infrastructure needs; in fact, the commission has delivered $5.65 billion in toll-backed funding to PennDOT in the last decade,” said Turnpike CEO Mark Compton in a statement.

Pennsylvania law requires the Turnpike Commission to contribute $450 million a year to PennDOT to help pay for public transit and highway infrastructure projects not involving the turnpike.

The commission borrows money to make those payments and debt payments account for nearly two-thirds of the agency’s annual $900 million budget.

A 2016 lobbying effort by the Turnpike Commission to prod the state legislature into finding another source for transit revenue was spurned due to a state budget shortfall.

In the meantime, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has said he will conduct performance audit of the Turnpike Commission.

DePasquale said the turnpike can’t continue to increase fares without eventually pushing motorists to other roads without tolls.

“What we want to analyze is their belief from their consultants that despite the increase in tolls, they’ll have increased traffic,” DePasquale said. “I am not convinced this is going to happen.”

He said his audit will also review whether the turnpike’s annual payment to PennDOT can be reduced.

The audit will determine how much debt the Turnpike Commission has and review its process of selecting construction contractors.  “We get feedback on (social media) on contracting across the board, and the turnpike is no exception,” DePasquale said.

DePasquale began a similar audit of PennDOT last May to determine areas in which that agency can reduce its spending.

Related to that, the Turnpike Commission is cracking down on the practice of some motorists evading tolls by driving in E-ZPass lanes without having a working E-ZPass transponder.

The commission has identified more than 10,000 motorists who have racked up more than $17 million in unpaid tolls during the past three years and plans to bring third-degree felony charges against those who owe more than $2,000.

The commission will also ask PennDOT to revoke the vehicle registrations of those with unpaid debts who commit another violation.

An audit released in September 2016 found toll violations were increasing, causing the commission to write off $12 million to $20 million per year.

The rising tolls are also being used to pay for construction on the turnpike. The Turnpike Commission said about 85 percent of its budget is focused on renewing, rebuilding, and expanding it system.

The commission has reconstructed more than 124 miles with another 20 miles currently being rebuilt and widened, and more than 90 miles in planning and design phases.

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