Pa. pike tolls set to rise in 2011
By JEANNE STARMACK
Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls are going up again in January — this time an average of 5 percent.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission approved the increase at its regular meeting Wednesday.
Drivers paying cash will see a 10 percent increase, while E-ZPass users will see their tolls go up 3 percent.
The 2011 toll increase follows two others. Tolls rose 25 percent in 2009, and 3 percent in 2010.
“We believe it’s essential to encourage more consumers to get E-ZPass. It’s four times more efficient, processing up to 1,200 vehicles per hour compared to 300 per hour in a cash lane,” said Turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier in a prepared statement.
But even though they use E-ZPass, long-haul trucking companies in the Youngstown area say the increase still is going to hurt.
Matt Croup, risk manager for PI & I Motor Express of Masury, said the company has been “anxiously awaiting” another increase.
“We heard rumors, and we’re not shocked,” he said. “But we’re disappointed.”
PI & I, a flatbed steel-hauling company, drives mainly to Philadelphia and Baltimore. It has been trying to use alternative routes as much as possible, Croup said, including Interstate 80 across Pennsylvania and Interstate 70 to Baltimore. But that’s not always more cost-efficient when considering fuel and driver hours, he said.
At Abf Freight System Inc. in North Lima, trucks run the turnpike to Harrisburg and back 30 times a day.
The company doesn’t use alternative routes too often, said Cliff Willoughby, manager of line-haul operations there.
He said his company also uses E-ZPass but will feel the effect of the increase nonetheless.
He said times have been tough for trucking companies in recent years for other reasons, such as the cost of diesel fuel and a decline in business.
“A lot of trucking companies have gone out of business in the last few years,” he said.
Behind the rise in tolls is a state law, Act 44, that was passed in 2007.
The law requires the turnpike commission to help out with an annual $1.7 billion funding shortfall in the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The money will be used for roads other than toll roads, bridges and transit systems, said Carl DeFebo, spokesman for the turnpike commission.
The commission had to pay $2.5 billion to PennDOT in fiscal years 2009 through 2011, he said. Now the commission will have to pay $450 million to PennDOT annually for the next 47 years.
The failed plan to make I-80 a toll road was supposed to help meet that financial obligation, DeFebo said. But the obligation isn’t going away just because the Federal Highway Administration rejected the I-80 plan.
There is no way of knowing how often or how much tolls will rise over the years to help the commission meet its obligation, he said. That will depend on how much traffic uses the road and the amount of revenues collected every year.
DeFebo said a 12 percent decrease of truck traffic on the road over the last two years, or a loss of 2.7 million trucks, played a large role in the latest toll increase.