HARRISBURG -- Burdensome and unsustainable debt will continue to plague the Pennsylvania Turnpike, pushing tolls up to $50 for a cross-state trip by 2021 for travelers without E-ZPass, according to a report released Tuesday from the state auditor general's office.
The turnpike is required to pay $450 million annually to PennDOT for nonturnpike costs because of a 2007 state law, Act 44, which attempted to find money for road and bridge repairs and mass transit. The original plan included tolling Interstate 80. The federal government wouldn't allow the state to do that, but the Turnpike is still obligated to continue paying PennDOT through the year 2057 without the benefit of I-80 tolls it had hoped to collect.
"The debt issue has to be addressed," Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said in testimony before a House transportation committee Tuesday. His comments echoed those of his predecessor, Jack Wagner, who also as auditor warned that the turnpike was deeply in debt.
"Act 44 is detrimental to the turnpike's financial condition, and payments should be phased out now," states a six-page report released by Mr. DePasquale's office following his testimony Tuesday morning. "At the same time, the state must develop a transportation package that is self-sustaining, stable, predictable and growing."
The House committee heard testimony this week and last week on a major transportation funding proposal that would raise $2.5 billion annually for the state's crumbling roads, bridges and mass transit agencies. It would lift the burden of the $450 million annual payments from the Turnpike after eight years.
A ride over the entire 359-mile turnpike mainline now costs $39.15 eastbound and $33.90 westbound for cash customers. It costs $30.77 eastbound and $26.71 westbound for E-ZPass holders.
Turnpike officials concurred that the road's Act 44 obligations are indeed burdensome.
"We are concerned that our Act 44 obligation, unless modified, could jeopardize our ability to continue the needed level of investment in our own system," turnpike CEO Mark Compton said in a statement. "If Act 44 is not changed, we may have to drastically cut capital spending."
Mr. Compton also commended the Senate for passing a transportation package earlier this month.
"We do hope the House of Representatives will follow suit and that a robust, multimodal transportation bill becomes a reality," he said in the statement.
Kate Giammarise: firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.