For the ELEVENTH straight year, fares on the Pennsylvania Turnpike rose. This trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future due to the financial bind it finds itself thanks to a 2007 state law, as reported by Pennlive. After eleven straight years of increased taxes, fed up motorists have started to plan their trips using the un-tolled roads, as per a new report by State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. His report offers a dire warning about the PA Turnpike, claiming it is on the road to ruin, and urging state lawmakers to provide some relief from the $450 million annual payments it is obligated to transfer to PennDOT through 2022 to help fund public transit agencies.
Despite raising fares, the Turnpike has been unable to make their payments to PennDOT without borrowing. That borrowing currently accounts for almost $6 billion of the Turnpike’s total $11.8 billion debt load. As DePasquale points out, the Turnpike debt it going to be higher than the total debt owed by Pennsylvania. As he said, “the idea that motorist and truckers on are going to be able to pay that entire debt back is literally delusional, drivers are not going to continue to pay these tolls.”
Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said the debt service payments on that borrowing now eats up about half of the $1.2 billion the Turnpike collects in tolls. There isn’t much left over to make necessary improvements or even to preform basic maintenance.
Another layer to the problem is the federal lawsuit filed by the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) and the National Motorists Association (NMA) challenging the constitutionality of using turnpike tolls to support non-turnpike projects. The truckers are seeking nearly $6 billion in refunds from tolls. This lawsuit has caused a ripple effect, the turnpike has stopped borrowing and deferred three payments to PennDOT (and is expected to defer a fourth payment), PennDOT has put some projects on hold, and public transit agencies are preparing for state funding cuts.
Neither Pennsylvania’s Turnpike woes, nor their increased tolling are unique to the region, though at least they understand the unsuitability of their predicament. Connecticut is looking to balance its budget shortfalls with tolling, especially for trucks. This is on the heels of Rhode Island’s truck only tolls and of course congestion pricing in New York City as well as myriad other toll increases throughout the state.
Tolls increase the cost of delivering goods and services, put local businesses at a competitive disadvantage, and increase the cost of living for residents. Trucks provide everything from food, to clothes, to building materials, and medicine. These tolling debt schemes throughout the Northeast corridor can really drag down the entire region.