Pennsylvania Turnpike to raise tolls in 2015

CEO expects more fare hikes in the future

Pennsylvania Turnpike drivers can expect another toll increase of at least 3 percent next January, and continuing annual increases for years to come, turnpike CEO Mark Compton said Thursday.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Airport Corridor Transportation Association, Mr. Compton said the state’s new transportation funding law has shortened, but not eliminated, the turnpike’s requirement to pay $450 million a year to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Instead of continuing to 2057, the required payments will end after 2022, he said. Toll increases are needed to underwrite the debt incurred by the turnpike in making those payments.

In the past, PennDOT has directed $200 million from each payment to non-turnpike highway projects and $250 million to mass transit. The new law directs all of the $450 million to transit.

The turnpike commission has raised tolls for six consecutive years, after raising them only five times in the toll road’s first 69 years of operation. Tolls for cash customers have gone up 92 percent since 2008; E-ZPass tolls have climbed by 38 percent in that period.

This year, tolls rose 12 percent for cash customers and 2 percent for E-ZPass users.

Mr. Compton told the audience at Chartiers Country Club in Robinson that the existing differential between cash toll rates and E-ZPass rates “is probably where it’s going to stay.” At present, cash users pay about 40 percent more than those who pay electronically.

The turnpike’s planned conversion to all-electronic tolling is moving slower than was originally expected, he said. “We’re probably looking at a few years out” from the initial 2018 target for completion, he said.

In all-electronic tolling, vehicles are billed as they pass at highway speeds beneath gantries over the road. It eliminates toll booths on exit and entry ramps. Cameras photograph the license plates of vehicles that don’t have E-ZPass and their owners are billed by mail.

Mr. Compton said about 800 of the turnpike’s 2,100 employees are in toll collection or processing, and said the agency will save an estimated $60 million a year when the conversion is complete.

The new transportation funding law, Act 89, approved by the Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett last fall, will enable the turnpike to move ahead with $6 billion in capital projects over the next decade. Before its passage, the turnpike was facing a “Band-Aid” approach to maintenance, he said.

“We’re in the new-capacity business again,” Mr. Compton said. “It’s been a long time.”

Act 89 over the next five years will raise the annual funding for toll road projects away from the current turnpike system from the current $20 million to $100 million, he said. Construction on one of those projects, the Southern Beltway section from Route 22 to Interstate 79, will begin this year, with completion scheduled for 2019.

Mr. Compton said completion of the Mon-Fayette Expressway from Jefferson Hills to Monroeville and Pittsburgh “is still on the books,” and said the turnpike will again explore the possibility of public-private partnerships to build that and other new highways.

In response to a question about the Mon-Fayette leg to Pittsburgh, which had been given up for dead by other officials as too costly, Mr. Compton said the proposal “is still there.”

Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG’s transportation blog, The Roundabout, at Twitter: @pgtraffic.

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