Monday, April 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Pa. Turnpike tolls to rise

On Sunday, they go up 12 pct. for those paying cash - only 2 pct. for E-ZPass use.

For Pennsylvania Turnpike drivers, resistance to E-ZPass may not be futile just yet, but it's getting more and more expensive.

Toll increases that will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Sunday will be 12 percent for drivers paying cash and 2 percent for users of E-ZPass, the electronic collection system.

It is the fourth straight year in which cash customers are taking a bigger hit. The upshot: Cash tolls will be nearly 40 percent higher than E-ZPass rates.

Put another way, those who cling to cash rather than E-ZPass will pay roughly a dime more for every three miles traveled.

E-ZPass customers pay a $3 annual service fee and get a transponder to mount on the front windshield. Tolls are automatically deducted from a prepaid account. Turnpike officials want drivers to enroll because cash payments cost five to 10 times more to process, and because E-ZPass lanes can handle four times the traffic volume of a cash lane.

A trip in a passenger vehicle across the entire 359 miles of the turnpike's mainline will cost a cash payer $38 westbound and $43.90 eastbound. E-ZPass users will pay $27.24 westbound and $31.38 eastbound.

Heavy trucks will continue to pay more than passenger cars, based on a toll schedule that divides vehicles into nine weight classes. The cross-state cash toll for the heaviest trucks is more than $1,500.

Tolls also will rise on most of the other turnpike-operated highways.

As of last month, 71 percent of turnpike trips were paid with E-ZPass. With plans underway to convert to a cashless system, possibly as soon as 2018, "obviously the goal is to drive E-ZPass enrollment up into the 80s if possible," turnpike spokesman Bill Capone said.

The Turnpike Commission has raised tolls for six consecutive years, after raising them only five times in the toll road's first 69 years of operation. Tolls for cash customers have gone up 92 percent since 2008; E-ZPass tolls have climbed by 38 percent in that period.

The reason: Act 44, passed by the General Assembly in 2007, has required the turnpike to pay $450 million per year to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for non-turnpike uses.

Since the law's inception, the turnpike has paid $4.1 billion to PennDot, and is required to raise tolls sufficiently to cover the cost of borrowing that money.

The recently passed transportation funding bill provides the turnpike with long-term relief, cutting the annual payments to PennDot to $50 million starting in 2022. Act 44 had required the larger payments through 2057.

Because of the continuing requirement, annual toll increases are likely to continue through 2022 and possibly beyond, Capone said.

Jon Schmitz Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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