The New Year started by taking its toll on Pennsylvania motorists—literally.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has raised tolls for the sixth consecutive year, with the price increases taking effect January 5.
Drivers paying in cash have been hit with a 12 percent rate increase, while E-ZPass users incur a less stinging 2 percent hike as the commission tries to encourage drivers to use the more efficient electronic option to traverse the toll road.
Increased tolls have become customary after the state in 2007 enacted Act 44, requiring the commission to fork over $450 million annually to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
The commission has paid PennDOT more than $4 billion during the past six years, but that falls short of the $4.6 billion in debt the commission took on to finance the payments.
Price Rises 54%
That debt has helped drive up the price of a cross-state trip on the turnpike by more than 54 percent since 2009, when it cost $28.45 for a passenger vehicle to travel the highway.
A trip across the turnpike now costs $43.90 in cash, up from $39.15. E-ZPass users pay $31.38, a 61-cent increase from the previous rate, but a $12.52 savings compared to paying with cash.
Most drivers, though, likely won’t make that trip, said Carl DeFebo, a spokesman for the Turnpike Commission. Instead, most motorists hop on one exit and get off at the next, he said. Those tolls will increase from $1.40 to $1.60 for cash payments if driving between, say, the Harrisburg East and West routes.
Act 89, the state’s transportation law that was passed last year, keeps the $450 million payment in place through June 2022, but drops the annual obligation to $50 million beginning in fiscal year 2023. Those payments will continue through 2057.
But the plan won’t stave off future increases.
More Increases Likely
“We’re grateful to the general assembly and Governor [Tom] Corbett for the long-term financial relief the PTC saw under Act 89,” Turnpike Commission CEO Mark Compton said in a statement. “However, it does not erase our debt or end our current Act 44 funding obligation. As a result, the PTC will need to continue to increase tolls annually for the foreseeable future.”
Beyond its obligations to PennDOT, the commission is responsible for maintenance and improvement to the 550-mile turnpike. Some stretches of the roadway, designed with a 50-year lifespan, are approaching 75 years old.
The commission has focused on rebuilding the highway and expanding it from four to six lanes, an endeavor that has cost about $20 million per mile, according to a state news release.
“We’ve been able to complete about 100 miles of total reconstruction,” DeFebo said, “and we need to keep that level of investment up.”
Andrew Staub ([email protected]) is a reporter for PA Independent, where this article first appeared.