The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has scheduled a vote today on a proposed 5 percent toll increase to take effect in January. It would be the seventh consecutive year that tolls have increased.
The increase would apply to cash and E-ZPass users alike — the first time in five years that the turnpike hasn’t imposed a higher percentage increase on cash users. But because cash tolls already are about 40 percent higher than E-ZPass tolls, the 5 percent increase would hit cash customers harder.
A westbound trip across the entire 359-mile turnpike mainline would increase by $1.90, to $39.90, for cash users and by $1.36, to $28.60, for customers who use the E-ZPass electronic collection system. Going eastbound, tolls would increase by $2.20, to $46.10, for those paying in cash and $1.57, to $32.95, for E-ZPass.
A trip from Monroeville to Breezewood would increase by 65 cents, to $13.25, for cash payers and by 45 cents, to $9.42, for those using E-ZPass.
About three-quarters of the turnpike’s drivers use E-ZPass.
Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said most drivers take shorter trips and would see increases in smaller amounts. A trip between Monroeville and Allegheny Valley or between Irwin and New Stanton, for example, would cost a nickel more for E-ZPass users and 10 cents more if paid with cash.
“People think of it as a cross-state road but very few vehicles go all the way across,” he said.
The turnpike’s cost per mile, 11.4 cents for cash customers and 8.2 cents for E-ZPass users, is second in the U.S. for toll facilities 100 miles or longer, surpassed only by the New Jersey Turnpike at 11.7 cents.
Since January 2009, tolls have increased every year, after the turnpike had raised tolls only five times in its first 69 years of operation. Combined, the six increases have boosted tolls by 92 percent for cash customers and 38 percent for E-ZPass subscribers.
Mark Compton, CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, said in a statement that the agency has been working to hold down its costs.
“In fact, we have kept discretionary operating-cost increases under 4 percent a year, and we have reduced our toll-collector complement with the rising popularity of E-ZPass.”
Mr. Compton said factors such as set employee-pension costs and fluctuating winter-maintenance expenses restrict deeper operating-budget cuts, but that the PTC is committed to holding expenses to the minimum. He said the commission has almost 300 fewer collectors on staff since the implementation of E-ZPass; today, E-ZPass is used by 73 percent of all PA Turnpike customers.
Mr. DeFebo said the biggest reason for raising tolls is a provision, enacted by the Legislature in 2007 and modified last year, that requires the turnpike to pay $450 million per year to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The amount is equal to more than half of the turnpike’s total operating revenue, which totaled $831.6 million last year.
By year’s end, the total paid by the turnpike to PennDOT will be nearly $4.5 billion, with the money going for projects on non-turnpike highways and bridges and to mass transit.
The $450 million annual payments were to continue until 2057, but the transportation bill last year approved by the Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett reduces the payments to $50 million a year after June 2022. The legislation also changed the allocation formula, designating all of the money for transit. Turnpike officials have said annual toll increases will remain necessary to continue the payments to PennDOT.
Another factor pushing up toll costs is the need for extensive reconstruction on turnpike sections that are more than 70 years old, officials have said.
The toll increases appear not to have discouraged drivers from using the turnpike. Some 187.9 million vehicles used it last year, down slightly from the 189.6 million vehicles recorded in 2008.
The five-member turnpike commission, which is appointed by the governor, is scheduled to meet at 9:30 a.m. in Highspire, near Harrisburg.
Jon Schmitz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG’s transportation blog at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.