Posts Tagged ‘Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’

Turnpike Won’t Go All Electronic Tolling for Now

June 29, 2020

The Ohio Turnpike does not plan to institute all electronic toll collecting or to end the use of human toll takers, at least for now.

Turnpike officials said they will continue to take cash, credit cards and E-Z Pass for the foreseeable future although the agency is undertaking a toll modernization project.

The modernization program, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2022, will allow for “open road tolling” in which motorists with an E-Z pass can travel the length of the 241-mile turnpike without slowing down.

Turnpike spokesman Brian Newbacher said use of the E-Z Pass in Ohio is not high enough to justify ending the ability to pay tolls with cash or credit card.

Cameras could be used to photograph license plates of vehicles without an E-Z Pass as they pass through a toll plaza with the license plate holder receiving a bill in the mail.

That is the practice on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which has also furloughed  its toll takers as it moved to an all-electronic tolling system.

The downside to that system is that not all motorists pay their bill and in some instances the toll can’t be collected.

On the Ohio Turnpike, more than 35 percent of users paid tolls by cash or a credit card, which netted nearly $90 million in revenue last year.

In Pennsylvania, about 20 percent of users paid by cash or credit in 2019.

Last November, 83 percent of Pennsylvania Turnpike users paid tolls with an E-Z Pass.

Of the 9 percent of users who had a photo taken of their license plate, 5 percent have yet to pay and 3 percent of the tolls were unbillable due to an obscured plate or insufficient address.

Newbacher said Ohio Turnpike officials expect that in time they will move to an all-electronic system, but E-Z Pass use is not expected to a level to justify that for at least another seven to 12 years.

Pennsylvania justified furloughing toll takers in part as a plan to seek to stop the spread of COVID-19, but Ohio Turnpike officials believes they have adequately addressed any health concerns by installing protective shields in toll booths, issuing hand sanitizer and gloves to toll collectors, sanitizing each toll booth once a week.

The Ohio Turnpike employs 159 toll collectors who earn from $21.53 to $26.95 a hour for fulltime collectors. The 166 part-time toll collectors are paid from $18.25 to $20.77 an hour.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission laid off nearly 500 employees and moved up its switch to all-electronic tolling from a planned date of October 2021.

Ohio’s modernization plan will also involve installation of directional aides to help channel traffic and building new “mainline” plazas near Toledo and Youngstown.

That will lead to the elimination of several little-used toll plazas at exits and entrances at each end of the turnpike where tolls will no longer be collected.

Pa. Turnpike Might Seek to Cut Transit Payments

April 19, 2020

With traffic down sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pennsylvania Turnkpike is eyeing reducing capital projects and skipping paying money to the state’s public transit agencies.

By law the turnpike must make quarterly payment to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which then distributes those funds to transit agencies.

Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said last week that his agency is reviewing whether it will be able to make the next payment, which is due in July.

In recent years the turnpike has had to borrow money to make those quarterly payments, which has contributed to it building a debt of more than $13 billion.

The turnpike’s payments to support transit are scheduled to pay to $50 million a year in 2023. The current payments are $450 million a year.

Compton suggested that the turnpike might seek approval of the state legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf to reduce its transit payments before then in order to focus on maintaining its roads.

Wolf has projected that lost sales tax and other revenues will cause the state to run up a $5 billion deficit by the end of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The turnpike has a 10-year $5.9 billion capital improvement plan but it make pare that back in the wake of lost revenue due to reduce traffic.

Toll revenue has been steadily falling since March 1. The most recent figures show that during the week of March 29 1.5 million vehicles used the turnpike, a drop of 63 percent compared with the same week in 2019.

During the same period, toll revenue fell from $23.6 million for the week of March 1-7 to $11.9 million the week of March 29, a drop of decline of 50 percent compared to 2019.

Compton said capital projects that involve widening the roadway and other nonessential maintenance may be suspended.

He indicated that only only mission-critical projects necessary to maintain the 552-mile tollway, including facilities, technology and fleet, in current conditions will be undertaken.

The turnpike does not play to suspend work on converting toll plazas to automated facilities in which motorists pay using a prepaid E-ZPass transponder or are billed after the turnpike takes a photo of their license plate.

Pa. Turnpike Adopts Cashless Tolling at Gateway Plaza

November 6, 2019

The Pennsylvania Turnpike is no longer taking cash or credit cards for payment of tolls upon entering the highway from Ohio. It will also cost you more, a lot more.

Effective Oct. 27, it converted the Gateway toll plaza to a cashless facility with payment made either with an E-ZPass or billing motorists after capturing their license plate number.

As motorists drive through the toll plaza a high-resolution camera will photograph their license plate and the turnpike will send an invoice to the owner of the vehicle within a month.

In a news release, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission said traffic will be able to keep moving through the toll plaza whether paying by E-ZPass or invoice.

Motorists continuing eastward on the turnpike must still pick up a ticket at the Warrendale Toll Plaza at milepost 30.9 in Allegheny County and pay upon exiting the highway.

The Turnpike Commission said 82 percent of turnpike users pay by E-ZPass.

The cashless tolling also coincides with a toll increase. A passenger car entering Pennsylvania at the Gateway toll plaza will pay $12.20 if billed by invoice or $5.90 if traveling with an E-ZPass.

The previous toll for entering the turnpike and paying by cash had been $7.90. The E-ZPass toll increased by 6 percent.

Turnpike authorities justified the increase for invoice tolling by saying it reflects the costs of sending invoices and collecting tolls.

There will be no toll increases on Jan. 1, 2020, officials said.

If you are traveling the 357-mile length of the turnpike to Interstate 95 (Old Delaware Bridge) the toll is $62.60 for invoice tolling and $42.10 for an E-ZPass.

The Turnpike Commission plans to implement cashless tolling at every toll plaza by late 2021.

In a statement, the Turnpike Commissioners said there will be no layoffs of toll collectors before Jan. 1, 2022.

Collectors will staff toll plazas to offer guidance and aid to customers during the transition to cashless tolling.

Round and Round and Round the Toll Hike Wheel Goes. When It Will Finally Stop Nobody Knows

January 6, 2018

You might think that every penny that you pay to use a toll road would go toward the maintenance and operation of that road, including administrative expenses.

Maybe at one time it worked that way, but no longer. A toll road is an attractive cash cow to be milked by political officials for their pet projects or to pay expenses for which public funding is in short supply.

I’m not saying this is right, just that it is one of the many games that policy makers play in the budget making process.

For the 10th consecutive year tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are increasing and a case could be made that the size of the hike is not entirely the doing of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

By law the Commission pays $450 million every year to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which uses that money to help fund public transportation as well as highway and bridge projects not involving the turnpike.

The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission also diverts toll revenue to uses that do not directly involve the turnpike.

The game involves raiding pots of reliable and considerable revenue to fund programs tangentially related to the source of that revenue that are hard-pressed to pay for themselves.

It is all the better if much of the revenue from those pots comes from those who can’t vote against those doing the raiding.

Here is one example of how it works. Back in 2013, the Ohio Turnpike Commission sold $1 billion in bonds for capital improvements, agreeing to set aside $930 million of the proceeds to fund 10 transportation projects in Northern Ohio that do not directly involve the turnpike.

One of those is the Opportunity Corridor, a boulevard linking East 55th Street and University Circle in Cleveland.

Portions of that project have included upgrading facilities of the Greater Cleveland Regional
Transit Authority. The transportation elements of the Opportunity Corridor notwithstanding, it is an economic development project seeking to revive financially distressed Cleveland neighborhoods.

A Cleveland area resident sued the Turnpike Commission in federal court, arguing that diverting toll money for non-toll road projects violated state and federal law.

A judge disagreed, saying there is a “nexus” between the turnpike and other transportation projects because turnpike users will benefit from those projects.

Maybe so, yet I doubt that many New Jersey residents, for example, traveling to Chicago via the Ohio Turnpike will ever use the Opportunity Corridor’s spiffy boulevard.

For that matter, many users of the Pennsylvania Turnpike will never use public transportation in the Keystone State. But they are paying for it anyway, often without knowing it.

This is not to say that endeavors such as the Opportunity Corridor or public transportation are without merit and don’t deserve public funding.

Nor is it to say that the policy makers who created the Opportunity Corridor or decided that public transportation users should be subsidized by taxpayers who don’t use that service made poor decisions.

It is to wonder how long the annual toll increase merry-go-round can continue spinning before it breaks.

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is wondering the same thing and has launched a review of the turnpike commission.

I’m not optimistic that any report that DePasquale issues is going to result in tolls being lowered on the turnpike let alone stopping the onward march of annual toll hikes.

The mandate that the Pennsylvania Turnpike underwrite some responsibilities of PennDOT is not the sole cause of that 6 percent hike that takes effect on Sunday.

At best that mandate simply adds to the size of the toll hike the turnpike probably would have imposed anyway even if every dime of it were to go directly to the turnpike.

The policy makers may pay lip service to DePasquale’s report and shave a few nickels and dimes here and there, but the allure of the cash cow and its daily torrent of toll-paying motorists is too irresistible to ignore as an answer to funding needs and the desires of policy makers without raising income taxes and sales taxes.

They’re simply raiding your wallet in other ways, including building automatic fee increases into toll roads every year in the belief that as much as you might gripe about the tolls you’ll continue to pay them because taking the toll road is more convenient than driving miles out of your way on two-lane highways without toll booths but which come with a multitude of traffic signals, lower speed limits and small town speed traps.

It is hard to love a highway that charges $7 upfront when you drive directly from the Ohio Turnpike onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Tomorrow it will cost you 45 cents more to enter Pennsylvania.

The Ohio Turnpike is also becoming more expensive. Back in 2013, the Turnpike Commission approved 2.7 percent toll hikes every year through 2023. It has learned well from its neighbor to the east.

Pa Turnpike Hiking Tolls by 6%

January 5, 2018

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.