Pennsylvania Turnpike Tolls Headed Up . . . and Up

Published June 18, 2014

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: The cost of using the Pennsylvania Turnpike will increase next year.

The Turnpike Commission voted Tuesday to raise tolls by 5 percent for both cash-paying customers and drivers using E-Z Pass. The toll increases will take effect Jan. 4, marking the seventh consecutive year in which tolls have increased.

Turnpike officials said the increase was necessitated by a state law that requires the turnpike to pay $450 million annually to the state Department of Transportation.

“It is important our customers understand that we continue to work hard to hold down costs as we ask motorists to pay more at the tollbooth,” PA Turnpike CEO Mark Compton, said in a statement.

Nickels and Dimes

The increase means the most commonly paid fare on the turnpike will increase by a nickel for E-Z Pass users and a dime for those paying cash, according to the turnpike commission.

But the turnpike has literally been “nickel and diming” Pennsylvanians for the past several years.

Since Act 44 passed, the average toll rate per mile has grown from 5.9 cents in 2007 to 10.9 cents in 2013, an increase of 84 percent, according to a report from Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

DePasquale warned last year that a trip from one end of the turnpike to the other would cost drivers as much as $50 by 2021, without reforms.

$46 End to End

It’s already getting close to that mark. After the increase in January it will cost $46 for cash-paying customers to cross the length of the turnpike from Ohio to New Jersey — those using E-Z Pass will pay about $33 for the same trip — up from $28.45 in 2009, according to PA Independent calculations.

Act 44 was supposed to remain in place for 50 years, but the General Assembly changed the law as part of an overall transportation funding bill passed last November (Act 89). The turnpike’s payments to PennDOT will cease after 2022, though it will still pay $50 million annually until the Act 44 agreement ends in 2057.

Credit rating agencies, which have warned of negative consequences from the turnpike’s mounting levels of debt, looked favorably upon the changes made last year.

Higher Gasoline Taxes

But those changes came at a price. Drivers will be paying more at the pump, thanks to higher gasoline taxes phased in over the next five years.

Higher taxes on gasoline won’t stop higher prices for riding on the turnpike, it seems. Annual toll increases will be the norm for at least the next decade.

“While Act 89 does provide long-term financial relief, it does not eliminate our debt or funding obligation,” said Compton. “Therefore, the commission will need to continue to increase tolls annually for the foreseeable future.”

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