The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, Monday (March 16), sent home all toll booth operators. Motorists who don’t have E-ZPass will have their license automatically photographed and a bill for the toll sent to them. A man-made traffic snarl has just ended. Will the toll booth takers ever come back?
Lowman Henry, last week, discussed the slow-motion fiscal train wreck that the Pennsylvania Turnpike faces. At the end of August, we noted that Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale was pushing back against his colleagues who were trying to enact a new tax on County drivers. In both instances, readers noted that it was only natural for Pennsylvania to spend so much on road work due to the volume of roadways the state maintained.
It is reasonable to argue that there is a direct relationship between the miles of road and the funds required to maintain those same roads. However, that argument ignores the issue of whether or not the money is spent efficiently. In the case of the Turnpike, some of the funds it sends to PennDOT are used to subsidize mass transit, which are some of the most inefficiently operated systems in the state. Furthermore, people should pay for the services they use. If someone uses mass transit, the ticket price should cover the cost. Likewise, tolls from the Turnpike should fund the Turnpike.
Returning to the original issue of whether or not the taxes being collected to spend on roadwork are being spent efficiently by PennDOT, one way to determine the answer to this question is to look at spending on a per mile basis. According to the Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report, Pennsylvania spends more per mile than 27 other states, $160,477. Regarding overall efficiency, the Report calculated that Pennsylvania’s overall rank was 39th when road conditions and other measures were taken into account.
Taxpayers and drivers shouldn’t expect an improvement in Pennsylvania’s standing next year. The Report relied on 2013 data, meaning it was before the gas tax increase enacted by Governor Corbett. As we noted in 2013, the General Assembly’s failure to reform how transportation dollars were spent would result in even more waste. We fully expect that prediction to be born out in the future.
Uber Banned Again Now That Dems Are Gone — An agreement reached, July 7, between the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which oversees limos and taxis in the city, and transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft, ends tomorrow, Sept. 30, once again making the popular services illegal in the city.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike is America’s first superhighway. It also has become one of the most expensive roads in the country to travel. If you are in a passenger car driving the entire length of the turnpike from the Delaware River Bridge in the east to Gateway in the west it will cost you $42.30 if you pay cash, $30.32 if you have an E-Z Pass.
Traversing the Pennsylvania Turnpike gets more expensive for truck traffic, significantly more expensive. That same east-west trip for the heaviest and largest of trucks costs $1,634.35. As if that isn’t bad enough, recent annual fare hikes are projected to continue into the foreseeable future.
Pennsylvania is known as the Keystone state and for good reason. Geographically we are centrally located for both north-south and east-west traffic destined for some of the nation’s most populous cities. For decades the turnpike has been a key traffic route, but now both freight haulers and passenger cars are seeking out other routes – such as Interstate 81 that, while a bit out of the way for some, charge no tolls.
These facts have not escaped the attention of state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale who recently sounded alarm bells over the turnpike’s fragile fiscal situation. In his audit of turnpike practices DePasquale said: “The plan for the turnpike’s financial future relies on projection calling for a 215 percent increase in toll revenue between 2015 and 2035 and a 44 percent increase in traffic volume through 2044. However, traffic volume has remained relatively flat over the last decade.”
These two projections are inherently contradictory as basic economics dictates that consumers use less of a product as prices rise – especially if prices rise at a much faster rate than the income of the purchaser. Thus, we can expect the past decade’s “relatively flat” traffic volumes to either remain so, or perhaps even decline as such significant toll hikes continue to be implemented.
It would be easy to blame mismanagement and the turnpike commissions’ often criticized hiring and contracting practices for these annual rate hikes. But, in this case the problem has been caused by the state legislature, not by turnpike administration. Act 44 of 2007 requires the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to make payments of $450 million per year to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). PennDOT which spends the money on highway maintenance and on subsidizing mass transit operations. Since the passage of Act 44, $5.2 billion in fare revenue has been diverted from turnpike operations to PennDOT.
Act 44 was passed with the unrealistic expectation that Interstate 80 would be converted to a toll road operated by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. That revenue would offset the mandated subsidy to PennDOT. State officials appealed to both the Bush and Obama administrations for approval of the scheme, but were rejected. As a result the turnpike has been saddled with making annual payments to PennDOT and no source to fund those transfers except annual fare hikes.
The legislative mandate is also having another impact: the turnpike is reducing planned spending on maintenance, improvements and expansion.
An ambitious rebuilding plan that includes expansion of the turnpike to six lanes in many areas has already been reduced by $1 billion over the next ten years. DePasquale pointed out the folly of the situation stating: “You can’t cut back on construction and increase traffic 44 percent, especially while jacking up the toll rates.”
The subsidies to PennDOT are scheduled to end in 2022, but by then the turnpike’s financial situation will dire. Worse, legislators will then have to determine how to fund the insatiable appetite for subsidies required by the state’s money-losing mass transit systems.
This problem should have been addressed two years ago when the legislature passed and Governor Tom Corbett signed into law a defacto 30-cent per gallon increase in gasoline taxes. That would have been the time to end “haphazard funding gimmicks” such as Act 44 and placed both the Pennsylvania Turnpike and PennDOT on solid financial footing.
It didn’t happen then. But it needs to happen now before, as Auditor General DePasquale concluded, the system collapses “and leaves the turnpike and people who rely on public transit systems across the state in a world of hurt.”
For that matter, kill the turnpike system altogether. Make the roads freeways. Traffic bottlenecks are removed, salaries for toll-collectors disappear as does the cost of maintaining toll booths or EZ Pass lanes, and we no longer have to worry about how the revenue is going to be collected when adding ingresses and egresses. This means more ingresses and, especially, egresses which means much greater transportation efficiency.
Something of which some may be unaware is that E-Z Pass keeps track of toll lane speeds.
This has been confirmed as occurring in five of the 15 states that use E-Z Pass, reports USA Today. The quintet of nannies is Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Maryland and Rhode Island.
The toll lane speed limit is generally a 30 mph limit.
Those caught speeding multiple times have their accounts suspended.
As of now only those caught chronically speeding in their own states are subject to suspension as the system, while it can can credit the transponders of out-of-state drivers, does not allow access to other information about them.
We always suspected Big Brother could be spelled E-Z Pass. Our preference is to simply end all attempts to charge for using highways. Let the gas tax suffice for maintaining the infrastructure of which there would be less to maintain if there were no toll booths. The would also mean more entrances and, especially, exits hence more a more efficient traffic system.
PennDOT is also now issuing a plate to commemorate the sacrifices of Pennsylvania’s Civil War veterans with the new Pennsylvania Monument plate. The revenue collected from this plate is designated to assist with preserving monuments at the Gettysburg National Military Park.
The fee for the plate is $54 with $23 of the proceeds to be used to provide grants to nonprofit organizations for cleaning, repairing and restoring monuments in the Gettysburg National Military Park.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is requesting public comment for improving customer services through an online survey, reports State Rep. Jim Cox (R-129).
The survey is designed to collect public feedback on safety, education and mobility needs to help guide future mobile service development.
The brief survey asks participants to prioritize safety and mobility needs related to PennDOT areas, such as public transit and driver and vehicle services, says Cox. Participants will also share feedback on educational opportunities for interacting with the department.
Residents of Pennsylvania can take the survey here.
PennDOT is seeking temporary employees for its 2014 winter maintenance program, reports State Rep. Jim Cox (R-129).
The majority of available positions are transportation equipment operators, a position which requires a commercial driver’s license.
Additional temporary positions include mechanics, trades helpers, welders, clerks, typists, semi-skilled laborers, stock clerks and custodial workers. The program runs from September through April.
For information on eligibility requirements and to apply online, visit RepJimCox.com and click on “PennDOT Winter Maintenance Program.” The deadline to apply is the close of business on Tuesday, Aug. 8.