The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission should eliminate toll facilities and switch to electronic, cash-free collection. While the move regrettably would result in some layoffs, it would speed up travel times across the state.
Earlier this month, the Turnpike opened its newest interchange near Jim Thorpe. The interchange was notable because it didn’t contain a traditional toll facility. Instead, motorists were told they needed an E-ZPass tag to use it. Those who tried skirting that rule have their license plates photographed with a bill sent in the mail.
The Turnpike is tip-toeing into that arena with two other major projects: the Turnpike’s connection with Interstate 95 near Philadelphia will be electronic-only, as will a portion of the Beaver Valley Expressway near Pittsburgh.
Last Wednesday, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported the Turnpike Commission is considering a proposal that would extend that philosophy across Pennsylvania.
While doing so would result in the elimination of toll-collector positions, the upshot is substantial.
Travelers on the Turnpike’s Northeast Extension – which connects our area with Philadelphia via the Lehigh Valley – know all too well how frustrating the existing model can be. Traveling from Clarks Summit past Bear Creek, for example, requires driving through numerous toll plazas. Even if you have E-ZPass, you must drive through a toll facility at slow speeds, disrupting traffic patterns across the region.
On the many days when Interstate 81 is congested, the Turnpike often proves to be an only marginally better alternative because it forces motorists to stop and go at myriad toll facilities.
To be clear, the elimination of those facilities isn’t akin to eliminating tolls. In fact, tolls continue to rise on the Turnpike, as they do across many other toll roads in the Northeast. But eliminating the costly infrastructure and personnel expenses tied to toll facilities should, in theory, result in significant savings for the Turnpike Commission.
This system has been proven to work just 90 minutes from here, in New York’s Hudson Valley. There, the New York State Thruway Authority eliminated two toll barriers between Route 17’s intersection with the Thruway and the Tappan Zee Bridge. Commuters who previously found their trips stymied by slowed or stopped traffic suddenly found themselves on the road for shorter periods of time. Psychologically, that helped cushion the blow of the Thruway’s endless stream of toll increases.
The Turnpike Commission would be wise to follow in those footsteps and embrace electronic payments.