Pa. Turnpike on road to ruin without changes, auditor general says

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Turnpike increased the speed limit from 65 mph to 70.

Tolls on the road, however, are rising at a much faster clip and it’s of great concern to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, who released an audit of the toll road Tuesday afternoon in Pittsburgh.

The turnpike is required to give PennDOT $450 million every year, which it spends on mass transit agencies across the state. That heavy financial burden is taking a toll, DePasquale said. Drivers paying cash spend $42.30 to go from Ohio to New Jersey. Trucks pay much more.

The increases are scheduled to continue every year and, according to DePasquale, are unsustainable.

“It (the audit) is a red flag for the legislature and the governor that they have a major problem on their hands: that one of the means of funding transportation in the state is not gonna be able to do that for much longer,” he said.

DePasquale says two things must happen: lawmakers must decouple the turnpike from its $450 million PennDOT commitment, and they must give the turnpike more teeth in tracking down toll skippers that cost the toll road millions per year.

E-ZPass is, apparently, too easy for drivers to ignore.

“Right now, there are people, especially people from out of state, that blow through the E-Zpass and they don’t pay,” DePasquale said. “That needs to change.”

DePasquale says penalties must be toughened and Pennsylvania should work with other states to crack down on violators.

“When you go to get your license renewed, you should pay your uncollected tolls,” he said.

He praised the turnpike for cooperating with the audit.

Turnpike Chairman Sean Logan released a statement that read, in part: “We agree with auditor DePasquale that our mounting debt, due largely to payments to PennDOT, as mandated by state law, is a growing concern, and we are taking steps to address that challenge. We look forward to working with the auditor as well as the legislature to secure passage of meaningful tolling enforcement legislation that will allow all tolling agencies in the state to make sure motorists pay their fair share.”

DePasquale noted that before the passage of Act 44 of 2007, the law that requires the turnpike to make annual payments to PennDOT, the turnpike increased tolls only five times in 64 years. The turnpike has raised tolls every year since 2009.

The auditor general says the under-funding and over-tolling becomes a crisis in 2023, but the legislature’s not exactly a lead-footed driver when it comes to fixing complex problems like statewide transportation and mass transit. He feels it’s important to lay on the horn now.

“We see how fast Harrisburg moves,” DePasquale said. “It’s the definition of glacier pace and that’s why the work has to start on that immediately.”

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