Pennsylvania Turnpike 'obligated' to increase tolls every year, official says

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 7/8/2015

The chairman of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission says the commission is obligated to increase tolls every year despite paying a significantly lower annual amount to the state DOT for transportation projects.

On Tuesday, July 7, the commission voted to approve a 6 percent toll hike for cash and E-ZPass customers, which takes effect in January 2016. The vote marks the eighth consecutive toll increase on Pennsylvania’s 550-mile turnpike system.

A five axle truck making a 350-mile trip on the turnpike’s main line already pays $240 in cash or $172 with E-ZPass. A 6 percent increase would add $14 and $10 respectively.

Turnpike Commission Chairman Sean Logan says that despite incentives to keep rates down, the commission has no choice.

Logan explained in a statement that a 2007 law known as Act 44 required the commission to fork over $450 million each year to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to use for mass transit and other transportation projects in the state not related to the turnpike.

A 2013 law known as Act 89 lowered the commission’s annual payments to PennDOT to $50 million, but Logan says debts and obligations require the commission to raise tolls as much as 3 to 6 percent annually through the year 2044.

“The legislature passed Act 44 in 2007, requiring us to make payments to PennDOT for roadway projects and mass-transit operations statewide. Since then, we’ve transferred $4.75 billion to the Commonwealth for off-Turnpike investment,” Logan stated.

“As a result of Act 89 of 2013, our payments will be lowered from $450 million a year to $50 million a year beginning in 2023. We welcome this relief, but we will still be required to make additional payments totaling almost $5 billion through 2057.”

Approximately 75 percent of turnpike customers use E-ZPass, according to the press release.

Turnpike CEO Mark Compton says the agency currently spends about $600 million a year on a comprehensive reconstruction project to rebuild and expand 450 miles of turnpike from four lanes to six.

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