Flanked by a sign that read “Road to Ruin” Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today said the Pennsylvania Turnpike, currently $11.8 billion in debt, needs legislative help to prevent tolls from continuing their annual rise.
At issue is a law that requires the turnpike to send money each year to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
“The amount of money this turnpike needs under current law to operate is simply not sustainable,” DePasquale said.
Under Act 44 of 2007, the turnpike makes payments to PennDOT each year to fund public transportation projects. The commission has paid $4.6 billion to PennDOT to date.
Prior to that, DePasquale said that the turnpike had only raised tolls five times in 64 years.
Since those payments began, he said turnpike tolls have risen each year for the past 11 years and will continue to do so.
“The tolls just keep getting higher and higher. Whether anyone thinks that’s fair or not, it’s just not sustainable,” he said.
He said a family would pay $56.50 in tolls to drive across Pennsylvania in 2019 one way. A commercial truck would pay $183.50.
If nothing is done to stem the current rate of rising tolls, he said, a truck could be paying over $400 to cross the state in less than 20 years.
But, he said while the tolls keep going up, they are failing to put a dent in the turnpike’s debt.
Mark Compton, CEO of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, said the turnpike’s annual revenue is currently $1.2 billion. It needs to pay half of that - $600 million - each year towards its debt service, which includes the $450 million each year that is going to PennDOT.
“This can’t be changed by us alone,” Compton said.
DePasquale said he agreed. He found in his audit that while there were areas that could be improved, such as cracking down on non-paid turnpike employees’ use of the turnpike for non-business related reasons and the need to more aggressively go after motorists who skip tolls, the turnpike was managing its finances well.
He said a legislative change - specifically eliminating the burden of funding PennDOT projects - is needed to keep the 552-mile turnpike viable.
“In my opinion the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is on a path to bankruptcy,” he said. “We need to find another source of revenue for funding public transportation.”