By Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Drivers, get ready to pay more on the Pennsylvania Turnpike next year: tolls are going up for the sixth consecutive year.
Starting Jan. 5, cash tolls will jump by 12 percent, and E-ZPass tolls will increase 2 percent.
A typical passenger vehicle will pay $3.55 to $4 in cash for a mid-length trip, such as from the Lehigh Valley exit to the Poconos. Using an E-ZPass, the same trip would cost $2.71 to $2.77.
A shorter trip, like the commuter path between Harrisburg East and West routes, will increase from $1.40 to $1.60 for cash-paying drivers.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission approved the increase at a July 15 board meeting.
Turnpike commissioners again cited the increase in part to Act 44 of 2007, which requires a $450 million annual payment to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The commission has increased tolls every year since its passage; now, about 18 cents of every toll dollar goes towards PennDOT road repairs.
The turnpike also has plans to continue widening its roadways from four to six lanes.
Since Act 44 passed, the average toll rate per mile has grown from 5.9 cents in 2007 to 10.9 cents in 2013, an increase of 84 percent, according to a report from Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.
DePasquale found that by 2021, a full ride on the turnpike would cost drivers $50. He also concluded Act 44 has already cost the turnpike about $3.9 billion in debt as of 2012.
Earlier this year, it appeared some relief might come to the turnpike’s debt load. Lawmakers debated passing a transportation funding plan that would’ve restructured where the state gets some of its money for roads and bridges, eliminating Act 44 payments over time.
But that bill wasn’t passed during the budget season, failing to gain enough support for a vote in the House of Representatives. Gov. Tom Corbett and top lawmakers who support the plan have said the topic could be addressed in the fall.
The Senate Transportation Committee is holding a hearing on transportation funding and the turnpike Wednesday, with CEO Mark Compton and Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch scheduled to attend.
Turnpike officials are supportive of a plan that restructures Act 44, including Compton.
“We understand that these recurrent annual increases can create an economic hardship for some, and for this reason we ardently support a measure in the General Assembly that would modify the funding requirements in Act 44,” Compton’s statement on the increase said. “If passed, this measure would mean that the PTC could eventually reduce the magnitude of future toll increases.”
Earlier this year, Moody’s downgraded the turnpike’s bond rating. The agency cited the increase in tolls as a potential challenge, as someday drivers may quit using the toll road in favor of free, alternative routes.
The 2014 toll increase will be the 11th toll increase in the history of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
Contact Melissa Daniels at firstname.lastname@example.org