Auditor: Turnpike Toll Increases Potentially “Unsustainable”
Pennsylvania residents are being warned of a potential “transportation disaster” following an audit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission that highlights the organization’s unstable finances.
The audit, which was released yesterday by state auditor general Eugene DePasquale, found that the commission’s financial situation has deteriorated steadily since 2007.
Much of that, the audit claims, is due to the commission’s annual $450 million payments to PennDOT, required by Act 44. The annual payments, which PennDOT uses to fund public transportation and which the commission has repeatedly borrowed to cover, will be reduced to $50 million in 2023. But DePasquale said the commission wants to drop the payments sooner.
In effort to cover its debt, which accounts for $600 million of its $980 million yearly budget, the commission has raised turnpike tolls for the last nine years and is expected to continue raising them through 2044. But DePasquale said he worries the steep tolls could deter drivers from using the turnpike.
Higher tolls could also mean a higher incidence of toll violations, a trend that’s already noticeable. From June 2015 through April 2016, the commission invoiced violation tolls and fees totaling more than $61 million — almost double from the $32 million invoiced in 2012–2013. But a lot of the violations go uncollected. At the end of 2015, $43.2 million in unpaid tolls went uncollected, according to the audit, and in 2015-2016 alone, there were an estimated $61.3 million in unpaid tolls.
In a news conference yesterday, DePasquale called for state legislators to give the Turnpike Commission the power to suspend a state resident’s vehicle registration until outstanding fees are paid.
The commission is currently undergoing a review, due sometime this month, to weed out any unnecessary expenses. The commission recently decreased its 10-year projected capital budget by $1 billion.
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