HARRISBURG – Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a special report June 18 on the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s debt he believes shows that without intervention, rising Turnpike tolls will place an unfair burden on motorists and businesses using the roadway.
“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. “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 of 2007 was an attempt by the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the former governor to find revenues for public transit agencies and road and bridge repairs. The original plan included 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 ultimately denied the state permission to toll I-80; however, 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.
“Based upon our research and analysis, the Turnpike cannot sustain the level of debt Act 44 requires and, toll rates cannot become cost prohibitive for motorists and businesses,” he told the Transportation Committee members.
“Clearly, Act 44 is detrimental to the Turnpike’s financial condition, and payments should be phased out. At the same time, the state must develop a comprehensive transportation plan that is self-sustaining, funds public transportation in all 67 counties, and provides PennDOT with the resources to fix our crumbling roads and bridges,” DePasquale said. “The plan must be based on stable, predictable and growing funding sources that are not overly burdensome to taxpayers. I know that is a tall order, but it is what the people of Pennsylvania want and deserve.”
The special report on Turnpike debt is available online at: www.auditorgen.state.pa.us.