(The Center Square) – Tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike increased over the weekend, widening the turnpike’s gap as the most expensive tollway system in the world.
A 5% toll increase approved by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) this summer took effect just after midnight on Sunday for all E-ZPass and Toll By Plate customers. The increase applies to the entire turnpike system, with the exception of the Southern Beltway west of Pittsburgh.
The increase, the lowest annual hike in six years, goes toward the turnpike’s required payments to the state to fund off-turnpike transportation needs under state Acts 44 and 89.
Act 44 of 2007 required the PTC to provide PennDOT with $450 million annually for highways, bridges, and public transit, while Act 89 of 2013 modified those payments and dedicated the full amount to public transit,” according to a turnpike news release. “Under Act 89, the PTC’s annual transit payments to PennDOT will be reduced to $50 million in July 2022, and $450 million will be provided from the state’s General Fund.”
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With the PTC’s final $450 million payment in July 2021, the commission has sent $8 billion to the state since 2007. The $50 million annual payments will begin this summer and run through 2057, contributing another $1.8 billion.
“Finally, we are seeing a light at the end of this very long tunnel,” PTC CEO Mark Compton said when the commission announced the rate increase in July. “In addition to breathing a huge sigh of relief ourselves, it enables us to begin to offer some relief to customers from those heftier toll increases and refocus on essential improvements to our roadway.”
A report by the Australian insurance company Budget Direct in March listed the Pennsylvania Turnpike as the most expensive toll road in the world, as measured by total cost to traverse the system – $112.91.
The next closest toll road was the Grosslockner High Alpine Road in Australia at $45.43, according to Land Line.
“Budget Direct calculated tolls by using rates for a passenger vehicle paying the highest toll possible for the entire length of the road,” the news site reported. “That includes paying cash and during peak hours if variable pricing is used.”
The rates reviewed by Budget Direct are now 5% higher, with the most common toll for a passenger vehicle increasing from $1.60 to $1.70 for E-ZPass customers and from $3.90 to $4.10 for Toll By Plate customers.
The most common toll for a Class-5 tractor trailer increased from $13 to $13.70 for E-ZPass customers and from $26.60 to $28 for Toll By Plate customers. Passenger vehicles heading westbound across the Delaware River Bridge will now pay $6.50 instead of $6.10 for E-ZPass customers and $8.70 instead of $8.20 for Toll By Plate customers, according to the PTC.
“The idea that motorists and truckers on (the turnpike) are going to be able to pay the entire debt back is literally delusional. Drivers are not going to continue to pay these tolls.”
The turnpike moved to a cashless system in 2020 and now bills those without an E-ZPass by mail. The change led to hundreds of layoffs, mostly for toll workers.
The cost cutting measure and others followed a 2019 audit by former state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale that found the PTC’s debt load was higher than the entire debt of the commonwealth.
“The idea that motorists and truckers on (the turnpike) are going to be able to pay that entire debt back is literally delusional,” DePasquale said at the time, according to PennLive. “Drivers are not going to continue to pay these tolls.”
Since the report, the pandemic has exacerbated the problem with fewer people using the roadway and more folks working from home. “Even with its abridged funding requirement, the PTC must continue to implement annual toll increases to repay debt incurred from borrowing nearly $8 billion to date,” according to the PTC release. “In fact, the PTC’s Act 44 debt-service obligations will grow from roughly $400 million per year today to about $600 million by 2038 before the payments start to decrease. As a result, the PTC forecasts future toll increases of 5% … through 2025, 4% in 2026, 3.5% in 2027, then 3% annually from 2028 to 2050.”
Victor Skinner writes for The Center Square.
This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.