Pa. auditor general urges watch over free turnpike rides
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HARRISBURG -- The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission offers free use of its roadway to employees and contractors, but officials should implement a system for ensuring those motorists are driving only for business purposes, said Auditor General Jack Wagner.
Mr. Wagner spoke Monday after he delivered a draft copy of his office's report on the turnpike over to the agency for review. A final report will be issued before he leaves office in mid-January.
The auditor general described the Turnpike Commission as being less than cooperative to his office's requests for data on how many people are allowed to use the toll road at no charge.
The data eventually received projected that from January 2007 through August 2011, about 7,000 motorists used the road for trips that otherwise would have resulted in $7.7 million in toll collections.
Mr. Wagner acknowledged that many of those free trips were legitimate, made by employees performing work duties or contractors hired to repair a certain section of the road. But without a more detailed breakdown of who was using the road and how often -- which the turnpike could not provide -- it is difficult to determine whether the system is being abused, he said.
"The problem is that the turnpike has no understanding of what is necessary in terms of the cost and what is not necessary," Mr. Wagner told reporters.
Bill Capone, a spokesman for the Turnpike Commission, defended the agency's policies, and noted that contractors are given cards identifying specific points at which they can use the road at no cost.
If those workers were charged tolls to access their project sites, the cost would simply be added back into the amount they charge to perform their work, he said.
"We have no reason to believe the privilege is being abused," Mr. Capone said, adding that the Turnpike will respond to other aspects of Mr. Wagner's report in the coming weeks.
First Published December 11, 2012 12:00 am