This editorial appeared in Monday’s Hanover Evening Sun:
We are quickly coming to the conclusion that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission wants all of its highways and byways to be the roads less traveled.
How else do you explain yet another increase in tolls?
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission explains it as the cost of doing business, while also putting a good bit of the blame on Act 44, which calls for the commission to hand over $450 million each year to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
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The announcement for the increases seems to be tailgating on the announcement of this year’s annual increase, which actually came out in January, but somehow seems like it was just yesterday.
That increase included a 12 percent increase for cash paying customers and a 2 percent increase for E-Z Pass customers. This new increase includes a 5-percent increase for both.
The Turnpike Commission explained in December that tolls are increased each year “to support ground-transportation needs and enhance traveler safety across the state. The annual increases are vital in generating revenues that enable it to help improve the safety and efficiency of the commonwealth’s roadways, bridges and transit systems.
The annual increase for next year was announced early last week. We’re guessing they wanted to get a jump on the summer rush.
Mark Compton, the turnpike’s chief executive, said annual toll increases are necessary ”for the foreseeable future“ to comply with laws requiring the commission to pay $450 million a year to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for highway and bridge work outside the 550-mile turnpike. Under the transportation funding law approved last year, those payments are scheduled to shrink to $50 million a year by 2023.
Compton said the commission is working to hold down costs and that the popularity of E-ZPass has allowed a reduction in the number of toll collectors. E-Z Pass customers now make up more than 70 percent of all turnpike travelers. Cash paying customers currently pay about 40 percent more than their electronic counterparts.
The more travelers using E-Z Pass the fewer toll collectors needed to man the booths across the state, which should have meant lower tolls, or at least lower increases in tolls during the past few years, but that has certainly not been the case.
The new rates, which take effect Jan. 4, will nudge the cost of the most common toll for passenger vehicles by a nickel to $1.09 for E-Z Pass users and by a dime to $1.70 for cash customers, according to the commission.
The most common toll for tractor-trailers will increase from $8.62 to $9.05 for E-ZPass users and from $12.15 to $12.80 for cash customers.
While the increases are not likely to force commercial truckers off turnpike roads in Pennsylvania, we’re guessing that as they continue to increase during the ‘foreseeable future’ a lot of motorists will be searching hard for a less traveled road.