Tolls on the rise

Tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike rose again Jan. 5 — for the 12th straight year. (Photo courtesy of the Herald-Standard)

2020. A new year. A new decade.

But many age-old constants remain. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Your favorite snack is still unhealthy.

And tolls are going up on the Pennsylvania Turnpike – this time for a 12th straight year.

The 6% toll increase for E-ZPass and cash customers went into effect Jan. 5.

Traveling the 53.3-mile length of the Mon-Fayette Expressway (Route 43) one way between the West Virginia state line to Jefferson Hills in a two-axle passenger vehicle will cost $11 in cash or $7.20 with E-ZPass effective today, up from $10.20 in cash or $6.60 with E-ZPass.

It’ll cost $3 in cash and $2.10 with E-ZPass for the same vehicle to travel 17.22 miles one way between the Old Pittsburgh Road interchange in North Union Township and the California interchange, up from $2.80 in cash and $1.90 with E-ZPass.

And it’ll cost $65.70 in cash and $44.30 with E-ZPass for the same vehicle to travel the full 356.68-mile length of the mainline Turnpike one way between the Ohio border to the Delaware River Bridge, up from $62.60 in cash and $42.10 with E-ZPass.

The annual toll hike will help the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission cover a debt service cost of roughly $700 million for the year.

PTC CEO Mark Compton said in a July press release that anticipated toll revenue was estimated at $1.4 billion for the fiscal year, meaning that approximately half of the turnpike’s revenue is going toward paying down its debt.

The PTC’s burdensome debt stems from the commonwealth requiring it to contribute to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) for transit operations and the PTC’s 10-year capital program.

Act 44 of 2007 required the PTC to provide PennDOT with $450 million annually for highways, bridges and public transit, and Act 89 of 2013 modified the payments to dedicate the full amount to public transit. In 2022, annual PTC payments to PennDOT for transit will drop to $50 million and will remain at that figure every year through 2057.

According to PTC’s Act 44 financial plan for fiscal year 2020, PTC debt issuance is expected to total $4.8 billion through fiscal year 2057.

Before Act 44, the PTC only increased tolls five times in 64 years, according to a March 2019 performance audit of PTC by the Department of the Auditor General.

Compton said the PTC has already contributed $6.6 billion in toll-backed funding to PennDOT in the last 12 years, according to Compton.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has said PTC faces a “road to ruin” if it continues to rely on toll increases to pay off its debt.

“The turnpike commission could actually default on its debt payments if steps are not taken to reduce the amount of money it must pay to PennDOT every year,” DePasquale warned last year. “Drivers cannot continue to pay these tolls.”

The Department of the Auditor General performance audit of PTC acknowledged that PTC is projected to be able to meet its debt payments over the next 20 years but called PTC’s ability to raise toll revenue to cover payments to PennDOT and expenditures for capital projects “remains potentially unsustainable” due to the uncertainty of future traffic and toll revenue projections.

A toll calculator is available at paturnpike.com/toll/tollmileage.aspx.

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