FORTY FORT — Mary Cebrick, a senior citizen from Swoyersville who lives on a fixed income, said the increase in gasoline prices will hurt her pocketbook.
“You better believe it will,” she said while waiting for her car to be repaired at Joe Kristan’s Forty Fort Lube and Service on Wyoming Avenue on Thursday morning. “But I guess we can’t do anything about it. I just hope the money goes to where it’s supposed to — to fix the roads and bridges.”
Cebrick was reacting to higher prices at the gas pump, caused most recently by higher wholesale state taxes on gasoline and diesel that went into effect Wednesday — the first of three increases being imposed by a new law. The law lifted the cap on the wholesale fuel tax dating back to 2006.
State gasoline taxes increased by 9.5 cents per gallon, while diesel taxes are up by almost 13 cents per gallon. According to AAA Mid-Atlantic, the Pennsylvania gas average was $3.48 per gallon this week, up 5 cents in the last week. Diesel was $4 per gallon.
At Forty Fort Lube and Service, Kristan said customers are complaining about the higher prices, but what choice do they have.
“People still have to buy gas,” Kristan said. “But I expect they will plan less trips. It’s not like a big city where there are mass public transportation systems.”
According to The Associated Press, fuel prices may go down slightly this year because the U.S. Energy Information Administration is expecting a slight overall drop in average U.S. gas and diesel prices in 2014.
According to AP, the agency’s projected U.S. annual average regular gasoline retail price is expected to fall from $3.50 per gallon in 2013 to $3.43 per gallon in 2014. Diesel fuel prices, which were projected to average $3.92 per gallon in 2013, are expected to fall to $3.77 per gallon this year.
Major repairs slated
State Rep. Mike Carroll said increasing the tax on fuels will ensure a safe and efficient transportation network by helping to fund a plan to repair deficiencies in the state’s roads and bridges.
“While no driver will celebrate the additional fees and tolls, these increases were unavoidable if we were to be serious about a solution to this problem,” Carroll, D-Avoca, said. “Our roads and bridges are the foundation upon which our communities and people’s lives are constructed and they simply could not be ignored any longer.”
He said closed or weight-restricted bridges combined with crumbling asphalt, resulted in added costs to drivers for detours, vehicle repair and delays.
State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, said the increase in the gas tax is necessary for the state to see a substantial increase in work and projects aimed at public safety and economic improvement.
“And for us to receive the expected benefit in jobs locally, there must be ways to responsibly pay for the work,” Baker said. “Numerous factors will play into determining the ultimate impact at the pump.”
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, said that when gas prices go up, expect prices on the goods being transported to increase.
“Basically everything is transported by truck,” Pashinski said. “Guess what? All of these costs, not just the 28 cents gas tax will be passed on to all of us. That means that every individual trying to live and raise a family, or just to survive in this economy, will be shouldering the greatest burden for paying for the repairs to our roads and bridges.”
Rather than increase the fuel tax, Pashinski has favored putting an extraction tax on the oil and gas industry to purchase transportation bonds to help subsidize the cost of making the necessary repairs and improvements to the state’s roads and bridges.
The tax and fee increases are designed to raise an additional $2.3 billion a year.
Turnpike rates up
Adding to motorist’s misery was the announcement from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission that it increased toll rates starting at 12:01 a.m. Sunday on all state turnpikes. The rates are to be increased by 12 percent for cash customers and 2 percent for E-Z Pass customers.
So far, the commission said it has rebuilt more than 100 miles of its system at an average cost of roughly $20 million per mile. The commission encourages those who travel by the turnpike network to buy an E-Z Pass, which costs less to maintain and will save travelers 35 percent on tolls after the increase
Businesses weigh in
Sheetz Convenience Restaurants released a statement on the impact the higher gas tax will have on Pennsylvania road improvements:
“The lack of funding available for repairs on Pennsylvania roads and bridges has taken a significant toll on Pennsylvania drivers, including our customers, our employees and the many trucks that serve our 464 stores throughout the Commonwealth and the other five states in which we operate,” the Sheetz statement said.
Sheetz commended Gov. Tom Corbett and the General Assembly for the recently enacted, bipartisan transportation funding legislation.
Larry Catanzaro, director of transportation at Kane Is Able, a Scranton-based transportation company, said Pennsylvania roads are horrendous and must be fixed to ensure safe and timely delivery of goods.
“If this what it will take to repair our roads and bridge, then so be it,” he said. “Good road surfaces ease the wear and tear on equipment and tires.”
Catanzaro said Kane has about 130 tractor-trailers on the road each day traveling the northeast part of the U.S.
Robert Chepalonis, general manager at Martz Trailways, said the higher fuel prices and toll rates will affect business. Chepalonis said Martz runs two schedules daily to Philadelphia on the turnpike and three on Fridays and Sundays.
“For example, the tax is 13 cents per gallon used on 45 gallons per trip or $5.85 additional cost per round trip,” he said. “The E-Z Pass increase is 2 percent, or about 82 cents per round trip schedule.”
Chepalonis said Martz increased rates in February by 3 percent, which absorbs increases such as these and other operational expenses when they arise.