Holidays are filled with traditions, but the Pennsylvania Turnpike has one that motorists would be happy to do without: the annual toll hike that takes place at the beginning of the year.
For the 10th consecutive year, turnpike tolls will increase on Jan. 7. This is the second year in a row that the increase will be 6 percent, raising the toll for passenger vehicles that go from Ohio to New Jersey from $51.85 to $55 for cash customers and from $37 to $39.25 for motorists who use the E-ZPass system.
Overall, tolls have more than doubled since the annual increases began in 2009. The turnpike gave lower increases several times to E-ZPass customers to get more people to use the system.
The increase for the Findlay Connector near Pittsburgh International Airport, where the turnpike is changing to a cashless system, will not change until at least April. After April, motorists who don’t have E-ZPass will receive a bill by mail for their toll charges on that road, a system the agency is trying to spread across the state to eliminate toll collectors.
The latest increase comes as the agency makes efforts in two areas to increase revenue.
State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is conducting an audit of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to see if there are areas where that agency can save money. The audit began in May and will be completed sometime in 2018, but a
department spokeswoman said there is no scheduled completion date yet.
That’s important to the turnpike because it is obligated by state law to contribute $450 million a year to PennDOT to help pay for public transit. It borrows money to make those payments and debt payments account for nearly two-thirds of the agency’s annual $900 million budget.
The turnpike made a strong lobbying effort in 2016 to encourage the Legislature to find another source for the transit revenue — freeing money for other turnpike expenses — but that largely fell on deaf ears due to a shortage of funds for the state’s general operating budget.
Mr. DePasquale has warned that the turnpike can’t continue to increase fares without eventually pushing motorists to other roads without tolls.
The turnpike also is seeking to recapture unpaid tolls by preparing criminal charges in a number of counties across the state, including Allegheny, to prosecute motorists who chronically avoid paying by driving through E-ZPass lanes without a working transponder to report the charge. The agency has identified more than 10,000 scofflaws who have racked up more than $17 million in unpaid tolls over the past three years and plans to bring third-degree felony charges against those who owe more than $2,000.
The agency also will move ask PennDOT to revoke the vehicle registrations of those with unpaid debts who commit another violation.
By Ed Blazina / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette