Turnpike Commission is counting on revenues from a proposed toll increase
will pay for much needed improvements. But they may be counting their
chickens before they’ve hatched.
in the trucking industry say the increase could cause a far larger drop
in truck traffic on the road – and therefore revenue into its coffers – than
the toll board expects.
Commission announced the proposal earlier this week. The current toll
for an 80,000-pound, class 8 truck traveling the entire length of the
turnpike’s 359-mile main line would increase from $105.55 to $150.75.
That amount includes the ticketed section of the road, plus the fee collected
at the cash gate at the Ohio border.
DeFebo, a public information manager with the Turnpike Authority, told Land
Line the increase would average 42.5 percent for the ticketed section
of the turnpike.
officials told The Pittsburgh Post Gazette that they are forecasting
a 5 percent drop in truck traffic should the higher tolls go into effect.
That decrease is figured into the commission’s estimate for how much
revenue the increase will bring in.
Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA, said he thought that
estimate was low. In fact, he said it “wouldn’t surprise me in the least” if
the drop in traffic was larger than that.
recalled the last increase in tolls in 1991 – about 30 percent, far lower
than the current proposal. The proceeds from that increase were to be
used to build new toll roads and new toll facilities in other parts of
the state. But that increase, despite being lower, resulted in a 13 percent
drop in truck traffic and other commercial vehicles using the road, and
a 15 percent reduction in the amount of toll revenues that they collected.
toll road officials said they think any reduction in truck traffic will
safe to say that initially an increase is going to drive people off the
system," DeFebo told the Pittsburgh newspaper. "But it's also
safe to say that over time, people will come back."
took issue with that, saying part of the drop off would likely be long-lasting.
you’re talking about that much, people alter their driving habits permanently
based on that kind of crap,” he said. “I think it’ll be more than that
(the state’s 5 percent estimated drop) if it was 15 percent previously.”
There is ample evidence for that right across the Ohio border.
The Ohio experience
Ohio’s turnpike experienced significant drops in revenue after that state raised tolls there. The increase there, which was 82 percent, went into effect in 1995. But, according to The Associated Press, the negative effect of that continues to the present: in 2002, commercial trucks made up 56 percent of the highway’s revenue; in 1994, it made up 62 percent.
Truckers instead are using alternate, non-toll routes, and many cities along those routes are complaining because of increased traffic.
The revenue drop has been significant enough that the state at one point asked the federal government for $250,000 to pay for a study to determine how to bring truckers back to the toll road. Among the options being considered – lowering tolls.
One Ohio lawmaker was quick to respond to that idea.
“We don’t need to spend $250,000 of taxpayer’s money to tell us the obvious,” state Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, said. “Why would any business pay to use a service when they can receive practically the same service at lower cost?”
Turnpike Commission said in a statement that the money from the toll
increase would be used for repairs and to reconstruct portions of the
Pennsylvania Turnpike is America’s first superhighway,” DeFebo told Land
Line. “It was built in ’38 and ’39, and opened in 1940. Eisenhower
signed the Interstate Act in ’54, so that’s 15 years prior to the interstates.
really the reason for this increase,” he added. “It has to do with our
need to renew our infrastructure. I would think that professional drivers
more than anyone else can relate to the fact that we really need to rebuild
said truckers already pay plenty of money to keep up Pennsylvania’s roads.
already paying,” he said. “More than 24 cents a gallon federal tax on
every gallon of fuel. In Pennsylvania, we’re paying about 31 cents a
gallon fuel tax.”
are simply modern-day highwaymen fleecing truckers and travelers,” Spencer
also pay through the current tolls – and according to the turnpike’s
own figures, it’s a significant portion of the highway’s current revenue.
vehicles make up between 14 percent and 15 percent of all traffic on
the turnpike, DeFebo said. However, the fees they pay make up roughly
half of the toll road’s revenue. More than 61,000 commercial vehicles
traveled the highway every day in 2002, according to the commission.
commissioners are expected to vote on the proposed increase Jan. 20.
If they approve the measure, tolls would rise Aug. 1. The members of
the commission are:
- Pennsylvania Gov.
- Mitchell Rubin,
- Timothy J. Carson,
- James J. Dodaro,
- Pasquale T. Deon
- Allen Biehler,
commissioner, secretary of transportation
- Joseph G. Brimmeier,
chief executive officer
- Kevin F. Longenbach,
chief operating officer
truckers can offer their comments on the proposed toll increase by contacting
the commission, send a message marked ATTENTION: The PA Turnpike Commission
to PTCCustSrv@paturnpike.com. Truckers
can also call toll-free at 1-800-331-3414. Comments need to be phoned
in between 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST; operators are available during
those hours, but there is no method to leave a message after hours.
truckers can contact Gov. Ed Rendell, a member of the commission, at
his office at (717) 787-2500. Pennsylvania citizens can contact the governor
online by going to http://sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/Governor/govmail.html and
filling out the form.
Mark H. Reddig, associate editor
Reddig can be reached at email@example.com.