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Mass Transit’s Toll on Motorists
By Rep. Steve Mentzer (R-Lititz)

I have recently been asked by some people why the Pennsylvania Turnpike seems to be raising its tolls more often than usual. It turns out, there is an explanation, but the root cause goes back to something that happened 10 years ago.

Earlier this year, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released an audit of costs for motorists utilizing the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

The audit revealed that tolls on the road have been increasing at an unprecedented rate. But, it turns out the Turnpike Commission may not be where motorists should direct their frustration. DePasquale noted that the passage of Act 44 of 2007, the law that requires the turnpike to make massive annual payments to PennDOT, is the likely culprit.

His logic for reaching that conclusion? The turnpike had increased tolls only five times in 64 years. But since that law took effect, the turnpike has raised tolls every year since 2009.

Because of Act 44 (House Bill 1590 of 2007) the turnpike is required to give PennDOT $450 million every year, which it spends on mass transit agencies across the state and the guaranteed pensions of those agency employees – the largest portions going to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

That heavy financial burden is taking a bite out of the pockets of turnpike patrons, the report concluded. Drivers paying cash spend $42.30 to go from Ohio to New Jersey. Of course we all know that trucks pay even more, placing a heavy burden on those who drive for a living.

DePasquale said the findings should be a red flag to lawmakers that the current system is unsustainable because tolls can only be raised so high before motorists decide it taking another route is worth saving the money. He also said that out-of-state motorists who blow through the EZ pass lanes with no repercussions also pass on a heavy burden to those of us who do pay.

According to the report, the tipping point of under-funding and over-tolling will come in 2023. Knowing the Legislature doesn’t always move at a breakneck pace, the auditor general is calling on the General Assembly to act sooner to fix this problem rather than later.

I agree with DePasquale on this issue. Pennsylvania’s first and second class cities cannot continue to lean on the backs of the rest of the state to make up for their fiscal mismanagement. The bankruptcy of Detroit is an example of what happens when liberal policies run out of other folk’s money.

We can’t let that happen here in Pennsylvania, but it will take some serious bipartisan support to address this complex issue.
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