The Boyertown Area Times
Another toll hike rings in the new year
If it’s January, that must mean motorists who use the Pennsylvania Turnpike need to make saving up for higher tolls one of their New Year’s resolutions once again.
The cost of driving on that highway just rose for the 15th consecutive year.
The most common toll for a passenger vehicle increased from $1.70 to $1.80 for E-ZPass users and from $4.10 to $4.40 for Toll By Plate users.
For regular turnpike commuters, even small numbers add up over the course of a year. And the cost of a long trip on the turnpike is astronomical. With the new toll rates, it costs about $52 for E-ZPass users to cross the state from the Delaware River bridge to the Ohio connector. For everyone else the price tag is a whopping $105. And the cost for truckers is much higher. For those of us who recall the days of throwing change into a basket to pay a toll, the notion of having to pay $100 to use a highway is especially hard to comprehend.
Turnpike toll increases are expected to go on annually for decades, not stopping until after 2050.
Traffic and toll revenue were up significantly in the last fiscal year. But the turnpike commission has to keep increasing tolls each year to meet its financial obligations under a 2007 law requiring it to make annual transfers of $450 million to the state to support other transportation projects. The law was supposed to go with a plan to establish tolls on Interstate 80. That idea went nowhere, but the required payments already were law, and turnpike motorists been stuck with annual toll hikes since.
One bit of welcome turnpike news this year is that a new state law has taken effect with the intent of getting toll scofflaws to pay up.
Authorities now will suspend the registrations of Pennsylvania vehicle owners who owe $250 or more in turnpike tolls. The law, signed by Gov. Tom Wolf and passed by the General Assembly with bipartisan support, bolsters a previous suspension threshold of $500.
“The fact is that uncollected tolls are largely due to drivers dodging their responsibilities,” PA Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said in announcing the change. “This legislation will allow us to better hold accountable those who intentionally cheat the system.”
We agree wholeheartedly. Much as we wish the tolls weren’t increasing every year, the fact of the matter is that anyone who enters the turnpike knows that it’s a toll highway and should be prepared to pay like everyone else. If you’re receiving a bill for a toll, it means a photo of your license plate was taken while passing through a turnpike toll plaza.
Turnpike travelers with outstanding payments receive invoices in the mail. If these letters are ignored, the turnpike eventually alerts PennDOT, which informs the driver that their registration is suspended. The turnpike estimates that 25,000 additional vehicle registrations could qualify for suspension under the new law.
Those convicted for driving with a suspended registration could face a three-month driver’s license suspension and fines of up to $500.
We encourage turnpike officials to push harder to get motorists to achieve compliance with owed tolls before it reaches the threshold for suspension. That’s a good idea for all concerned.
We also applaud efforts to expand payment options. The turnpike now allows customers to use cash to pay Toll By Plate invoices and add funds to E-ZPass accounts at stores in Pennsylvania and across the country. A list can be found at www.paturnpike.com/pay-abill/cash-payments.
We look forward to the day when toll increases won’t be an annual rite, and when Pennsylvania finally comes up with a more fair, sustainable way to fund its transportation infrastructure and state police (some transportation funding is siphoned off to law enforcement).
We urge people to push state leaders to offer comprehensive solutions to the financial problems facing the turnpike, PennDOT and the rest of the state government. Right now too much of the burden is falling on people who depend on the turnpike and have to use it, no matter how high the tolls get.