Benjamin Franklin, that wise Pennsylvanian, once observed that nothing was certain but death and taxes. If he still lived in Philadelphia, he might add something else to his list of certainties: Toll increases on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
This Sunday, with the joy of the holidays a memory for most people, the turnpike will inflict on motorists a little seasonal pain: Its fifth consecutive annual toll increase.
It wasn't always like this. As Post-Gazette transportation writer Jon Schmitz reported last Friday, between its opening in 1940 through 2004, the turnpike raised tolls only five times. Now they just keep on coming.
There's a sliver of good news, though, at least for drivers linked to E-ZPass, the electronic collection system that electronically takes the toll from a driver's account. Two-thirds of turnpike users have an E-ZPass responder and they get a break. The increase they will face on Jan. 6 is just 2 percent, compared with 10 percent for cash payers.
Those figures add up. A trip from Monroeville to Breezewood will be $11.25 in cash and $8.79 with E-ZPass. For the entire 359-mile turnpike mainline, cash-paying drivers will be charged $39.15 eastbound and $33.90 westbound; for E-ZPass users, the toll will be $30.77 eastbound and $26.71 westbound.
Unless drivers think the turnpike is a charity worthy of extra donations in return for no extra benefit, the smart thing to do is to get on the road to savings -- and E-ZPass points the way.
The annual turnpike increases are a reminder not only to drivers to make a smart choice but also to lawmakers and Gov. Tom Corbett to come up with a comprehensive transportation solution.
Under Act 44, a state law passed in 2007, the turnpike commission must pay the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation $450 million a year to help maintain non-turnpike roads, bridges and mass transit. It was assumed that the funds shift would be temporary and end when the turnpike began receiving revenue from the tolling of Interstate 80. That never happened because the federal government never gave its permission.
As Pennsylvania tries to bring some sense to transportation funding, the best the average motorist can do is to sign on to E-ZPass and save on tolls.