The state's fiscal watchdog said today drivers may have to cough up $50 to cross Pennsylvania in a few years if theTurnpike's debt isn't cleared up.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a report showing that without intervention motorists on the Pennsylvania Turnpike's will be bearing the brunt of the highway's debt load.
“Drivers will pay $50 to cross the Turnpike in 2021, and about $150 by 2057, if Act 44 remains unchanged,” DePasquale said during a House Transportation Committee today. “Act 44 obligations are causing the deterioration of the financial condition of the Turnpike, while placing an unfair burden on Pennsylvania motorists and businesses that rely on the Turnpike.”
Act 44 was approved by the legislature in 2007 and signed by Gov. Ed Rendell as a way to find a way to fund public transit agencies and road and bridge repairs.
The original plan involved tolling Interstate 80, transferring control of I-80 from PennDOT to the Turnpike, and requiring the Turnpike to make annual payments to PennDOT for 50 years.
The Federal Highway Administration denied the state permission to toll I-80; but the Turnpike was still required to make the annual payments to PennDOT.
Without the dedicated revenue stream of I-80 tolls, the Turnpike borrowed more than $4 billion to make PennDOT payments and continue its capital improvement projects. The Turnpike projects that at least an additional $11.4 billion in debt will be required to make future payments to PennDOT under Act 44.
“It is unrealistic to think about eliminating tolls on the Turnpike, but we do need to rethink the way we rely on the Turnpike to finance transportation projects because its current financial obligations are already unsustainable,” DePasquale warned, noting that even if the Turnpike’s Act 44 financial obligations are eliminated annual Turnpike toll increases will be needed for about a decade to cover the debt already incurred.
DePasquale called for the phase out of Act 44 payments by the Turnpike but said the state must develop a comprehensive and sustained trasnportation plan that funds both public transit and PennDOT.
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