Posts Tagged ‘Pennsylvania Turnpike’

Pa. Transit Agencies Seek More Funding

July 14, 2021

Pennsylvania public transit agencies are trying to prod the state legislature to create new sources of funding.

The agencies, including the Philadelphia-based Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, are acting ahead of plans to reduce funding transit agencies funding by the Pennsylvania Turnpike system.

The turnpike currently contributes $450 million annually to public transit but plans to reduce that to $50 million as part of a bid to reduce its $11 billion in debt.

Turnpike officials say they’ve had to reduce capital projects in order to pay the transit agencies.

One new source of revenue for transit agencies is a tax and use fees on vehicle purchases slated to go in effect in 2023.

However, transit agencies want the state to issuing bonds whose funds will be used as collateral to address current needs, and allow local governments to raise taxes or fees specifically for transit.

SEPTA said it faces a backlog of $6.4 billion for state-of-good-repair projects, including equipment replacement.

Without additional funding, SEPTA officials say it will take 20 years to catch up on repairs.

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.

Quest for Keystone Fall Foliage: 3

November 2, 2017

NS westbound 19G approaches the east portal of the Gallitzen tunnels as fall color fills the hillsides of the east slope.

Last of Three Parts

My next destination was Cresson, where I didn’t plan to stay long, but NS had other ideas.

But first I had to find my way out of Lilly. I had no trouble getting onto Pennsylvania Route 53, but I missed a turn in downtown.

I swear there was no sign showing that you have to make a right turn at the intersection where Route 53 juts eastward.

I went straight and wound up on a dead-end street. I had to zig zag my way back.

I had brought maps of all the towns I planned to visit, but hadn’t studied the map of Lilly enough determine how to get out of Lilly other than to stay on Route 53.

There is a large parking lot next to the railfan viewing platform in Cresson. I parked and walked up onto the platform. There was just one other person there and he spotted me and came over.

He was from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and we had a nice conversation about railroad operations in Pennsylvania and the highways in the Keystone State.

He been headed toward State College on U.S. 322, but got into heavy traffic of football fans leaving town. Those would have been the fans who stayed overnight after the conclusion of the Saturday night game.

That traffic led him to go another direction on his motorcycle and he wound up in Cresson.

We had plenty of time to talk because NS decided to go on siesta again. My radio was silent for a long time until the 21M showed up around 2:30 p.m.

Across the tracks from the viewing platform were three R.J. Corman locomotives that weren’t going anywhere. At least I got to see some bright color on a locomotive.

Not long before the 21M showed up, the Pittsburgh East dispatcher called the signal gang foreman to report that he couldn’t get switch 11 to show as having been thrown.

There was a good reason for that. The crew that had been digging around that switch earlier in the day inadvertently had severed a cable. They found some spikes and spiked the switch into position.

Think someone on Monday morning was going to have to answer for that one?

After the 21M headed for points west, I bid farewell to the guy from Lancaster and headed for Gallitzin.

As had happened in Lilly, I made a wrong turn coming town and had to zig zag to where I was going. I knew I was going the wrong way when the street on which I was driving went beneath the NS tracks. Had I followed the proper route I would have remained north of the tracks at all times.

I parked at the railfan park at the west end of the tunnels, but my stay here was brief. Nothing was going on so I motored up the hill to an overlook just off Tunnelhill Street.

The overlook offers an expansive view to the east, although it is somewhat obscured by trees and other vegetation.

But it is open enough to get decent photograph of trains on the east side of the tunnels.

By now the temperatures had finally reached the 70s and I no longer needed to wear a jacket.

I looked up to see a jet high overhead. I had my longest telephoto lens on my camera and snapped a couple of image.

When I enlarged the image on the camera screen I could see that it appeared to be a Boeing 747. But I could not make out any airline markings.

The radio came to life with a detector going off to the east and a westbound 19G calling signals. It was what I wanted to hear.

I could make out the outline of a train through the trees and waited until the head end came into an open area.

As much as anything, it was this image that I had driven to Pennsylvania to get. I wanted a photograph of a train grinding along with the mountainsides in the background wearing their palette of autumn colors.

I got it even if the colors were more muted than I would have liked. But the image says autumn and the lighting was good.

Having gotten “the shot,” it was time to slowly begin making my way west toward home.

I spent some time at the park by the tunnels, getting the helpers on the 19G, a westbound helper set and an eastbound intermodal train.

There was one last spot I wanted to check out and it would turn out to be the one with the brightest color.

I had been told by a guy at Cassandra that the color by the Pennsylvania Route 53 bridge over the NS tracks between Cresson and Gallitzin was particularly good. It was.

Shortly after I arrived, an eastbound trash train came along. I photographed it from both sides of the Route 53 bridge.

I noticed that an abandoned bridge abutment would offer a better place to stand on the south side of the tracks.

I walked over there and caught an eastbound intermodal train. A couple of young railfans joined me and we talked some.

What I really wanted, though, was a westbound. The light favored westbounds and there was good color at the bend where the five-track mainline curves as it heads into Gallitzin.

I had planned to leave for home at 5 p.m. NS had about a half-hour to send me a westbound. But the railroad wasn’t cooperating.

As I walked to my car I heard a scratchy voice on the radio say something like “3 west.” Was it west of Cresson or somewhere east of Gallitzin?

I thought about going back, but the day was getting late and I had a long drive ahead of me.

As I got on U.S. 22 at Cresson, I saw another eastbound coal train passing below.

The skies began clouding up the further west I went. But shortly after cresting ridge of the Laurel Highlands in Jackson Township of Cambria County, I looked to my right at the open view of the valley below and saw the best autumn color I had seen all day.

I was going too fast to pull over, so I found a ramp to reverse direction. I then had to go up and over at an exit to head westbound again.

This time I was able to pull over, put on my flashers and get out for some photographs of color on the hillsides.

Dinner was at a burger and beer joint in Murraysville named Crave.

By the time I left it was nighttime. I had entered Pennsylvania in the dark and I would leave it the same way.

But at least I didn’t have to contend with any more “highway robbery” incidents at the state line.

One of Pennsylvania’s many quirks is that you pay through the nose to enter the state on the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Ohio, but they let you leave without paying a dime.

Come back soon Buckeye and don’t forget to bring $7 with you to get in.

A broader perspective of the east slope as the 19G makes its way uphill toward Gallitzin.

Westbound intermodal train 21M splits the old signals and the yet to be turned on new signals in Cresson.

The helpers on the rear of the 19G in Gallitzin.

A westbound helper set running light is about to emerge from Gallitzin Tunnel.

An eastbound stack train casts shadows in the late day light as it passes through Gallitzin Tunnel.

An eastbound empty trash train in the first of a seven-image sequence. The view is looking west off the Pennsylvania Route 53 bridge just outside of Cresson.


Last train of the day in a four-shot sequence. The view is near the Pennsylvania Route 53 bridge at Cresson .