Pennsylvania Turnpike OKs toll increase; some would pay $150 to cross the state

| Thursday, January 22, 2004

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has approved a more than 40 percent increase in tolls on the state’s toll road, the agency announced Jan. 21.

The new rates, which will be effective Aug. 1, 2004, represent the first increase in tolls on the road since 1991.

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.

Carl 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.

Turnpike CEO Joseph G. Brimmeier said in a statement that the toll hikes would finance a number of infrastructure improvements along the aging east-west “Main Line” and Northeast Extension, doubling the rate of capital spending over the next 10 years. The commission has pledged that all revenue from the increase will be used for repairs and improvements to the road.

“Our turnpike is a safe road today,” Brimmeier said. “But, if we do not implement a toll hike, the potential clearly exists for the road to become unsafe.”

Brimmeier said the increase would be the last for the rest of this decade.

DeFebo said that one current program could help truckers alleviate at least part of the increase. Under the turnpike’s Commercial Credit Card Program, commercial vehicles can receive discounts on tolls.

The program, which is available to those drivers who charge at least $1,000 a year in tolls on the highway, offers a 10 percent to 20 percent discount to truckers, depending on how much they spend. To get the full 20 percent discount, a trucker would have to spend more than $10,000 a year on turnpike tolls in Pennsylvania.

“Obviously, as part of this increase, we want to promote it a little bit more, and soften the blow a little bit” for truckers, DeFebo said.

But Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA, scoffed at the idea that the toll discount would help. In fact, Spencer suggested the discounts, by offering greater percentage discount for higher amounts of toll payments, amounts to discrimination against small-business truckers.

“They think they’re doing some great favor,” Spencer said. “But all that really does is in essence add a further discriminatory element to the fleecing that they’re already doing to truckers.”

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark Reddig can be reached at mark_reddig@landlinemag.com.