By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG – If you tax something, you get less of it.
It’s one of the basic lessons of economics, and the same principle can be applied to tolls, as the Pennsylvania Turnpike is finding out. Motorists using the turnpike will face their fifth toll increase in as many years when the rates climb by 10 percent for cash-paying customers (2 percent for those using EZ-Pass) on Sunday.
A report from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Thursday takes a look at how those increases have affected truck traffic on the highway – suggesting that the higher tolls have caused trucks to divert onto local roads in western Pennsylvania instead of using the turnpike:
“We have always gotten a good share of local truck traffic on Route 30, but it‘s become a lot worse. I don‘t think that many trucks are making that many local deliveries,” said Joe Bellucci of Hempfield, who lives near the highway running parallel to the turnpike….
…Turnpike officials blame decreased truck traffic on the recession, not higher tolls.
“Is there a tipping point where tolls might start to affect traffic? Probably. But I don‘t think we can put a finger on when that might be,” said turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo.
According to the latest turnpike data that measure traffic between interchanges, average daily truck traffic dropped between the Ohio state line and the Donegal interchange in Westmoreland County in a range from 3.4 percent to 14 percent since 2008, varying by section.
The decrease in overall traffic, including cars, was not nearly as steep.
Tolls have climbed by 35 percent for EZ Pass customers and 71 percent for cash customers since 2009, the article notes.
Tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike increased four times between 1938 and 2007, but 2013 will be the fifth consecutive year with an increase.
And the toll increases are going to keep on coming, because the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is facing more than $7 billion in debt, according to Auditor General Jack Wagner. Wagner has spent the past year warning that the spiraling debt on the turnpike is unsustainable because it will require higher and higher tolls that will drive traffic away from the highway, while turnpike officials have maintained everything will be fine.
Under Act 44 of 2007, the turnpike is required to pay the state $450 million annually and is allowed to raise tolls every year for 50 years.
The total debt held by the commission has increased from $2.6 billion to $7.3 billion since Act 44 was passed, said Wagner.
“It does not end well for the toll payers and ultimately for the taxpayers of our commonwealth,” Wagner warned in Feb. 2012. “The mandates of Act 44 require toll increases for the next 46 years creating a debt time bomb for the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.”
Contact Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter.