THE PENNSYLVANIA Turnpike Commission says it's determined to upgrade to 21st-century technology. Hear! Hear! But with a state grand jury investigation of alleged turnpike corruption ongoing since 2009, the modernization should be viewed warily.
A contractor hired in July will implement all-electronic tolling in a five-year project, officials say. Existing toll plazas will be replaced by gantries spanning turnpike lanes to automatically deduct tolls from E-ZPass users' accounts and photograph other motorists' license plates to send them bills.
The upfront cost is estimated to be $250 million. But estimated annual savings from eliminating 755 unionized toll collectors, about 100 nonunion toll-plaza workers and the plazas' energy and maintenance costs will be at least $97 million.
That's a welcome counter to the turnpike's growing sea of red ink, despite repeated toll increases that far outpace the rate of inflation. But all-electronic tolling reminds us of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's withholding tax: You won't readily appreciate what you're paying. And even with voluminous toll-rate signage, costs could fly under the public's radar.
The turnpike touts the project as bringing greater safety and convenience – no more slowing or stopping to pay tolls. That's fine. But past being prologue, if there's a way to corrupt the system, turnpike officials will find one.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Greensburg