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?
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.
Commonwealth Foundation has created a well-thought plan to save the state. Call it a Prosperous Pennsylvania Blueprint. Below is the executive summary. The complete report in the form of a pdf can be found here. For the record, BillLawrenceOnline most vehemently opposes leasing the Turnpike, which is a public resource. Our suggestion is to make it a freeway eliminating traffic snarls and allowing for far more entrances and, especially, egresses to be built . This would increase its utility and improve traffic flow in Pennsylvania far less expensively than building new roads.
It should further be noted that expensive I-76 makes the Port of Philadelphia less competitive with New York/New Jersey — no tolls on I-80 after all — and tolls are a rather inefficient way of collecting revenue due to the cost of infrastructure and personnel.
And E-ZPass, frankly has too much of a hint of Big Brother for us.
Freedom is good.
By Elizabeth Stelle, Bob Dick, Jessica Barnett
Over the past six fiscal years, the commonwealth has spent more than it has taken in. This fiscal gap is projected to widen as expenditures are on pace to grow faster than future revenue. Such a structural deficit poses a threat to the very foundations of economic growth and job creation that lead to prosperity for Pennsylvania’s taxpayers.
From 1970 to 2014, state government spending rose from $4 billion to nearly $67 billion—the highest in state history. Adjusting for inflation, that’s an increase of $3,163 per resident.
This decades-long pattern has placed an undue burden on the backs of state taxpayers. Pennsylvania has the 10th highest state and local tax burden in the nation. Meanwhile, state and local government debt has grown to a combined $125 billion—nearly $10,000 per resident.
High spending, taxes, and debt hinders Pennsylvania families’ opportunities for prosperity. The commonwealth is near the bottom in most state rankings of economic climate and has lagged the rest of the nation in job and income growth for decades.
Unfortunately, the prospects for improvement are overshadowed by the challenges lawmakers face in balancing our state budget.
Recent budgets relied heavily on temporary federal stimulus dollars and one-time revenue sources, creating an imbalance between spending and revenue that has not yet been resolved. Spending on Public Welfare—the largest department in the commonwealth’s budget—continues to grow faster than taxpayers’ income. Debt payments and prison costs continue to eat a large share of the state budget.
The most pressing threat to our fiscal house is a looming public pension crisis. With $47 billion (and growing) in unfunded pension liabilities between the two statewide plans for public employees, state pension contributions will skyrocket by 143% in the next five years.
This report outlines reforms to help build a foundation for lasting prosperity. Our analysis focuses on three categories of reform.
First we address short-term fiscal reforms to deal with challenges facing our state budget. We also identify long-term reforms to bring spending in line with inflation while reducing the size of government and the burden on taxpayers. Finally, we discuss policy reforms aimed at economic growth.
These recommendations include:
–Cut corporate welfare spending—including Redevelopment Assistance Capital Spending, the Commonwealth Financing Authority, and the Horse Race Development Fund—and targeted tax incentives in favor of tax relief for all.
–Utilize part of the legislative reserve fund.
–Reduce reliance on driver charges and general tax revenue to fund mass transit, and shift to greater user fees.
–Allow school districts to use fund reserves to invest in pension funds and receive a credit for their future pension costs.
–Privatize and utilize competitively-bid management contracts for “yellow-pages” government, including state liquor stores, the Pennsylvania Lottery and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
–Enact comprehensive welfare reform to slow the rate of spending growth while also reducing poverty.
–Enact long-term care reform to encourage private long-term care insurance and reduce reliance on government programs.
–Increase school choice programs to provide families with greater educational opportunities at a lower cost per student.
–Limit future increases in government spending to inflation plus population growth.
–Lower the overall tax burden, rather than relying on economic development programs, to encourage economic growth.
–Enact a Right-to-Work law to make Pennsylvania more competitive with other states in attracting business investment.
Combined, these reforms detail a blueprint for a stable fiscal house that will provide opportunities for prosperity for all Pennsylvania families.
Prosperous Pennsylvania Blueprint has mostly great ideas but the Turnpike belongs to the people. Get rid of the toll booths.
Turnpike Commission Ends With HB 1197 — Legislation has been introduced last week to abolish the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, following grand jury findings highlighting waste, fraud and abuse within the agency, reports State Rep. Jim Cox (R-129).
House Bill 1197 would transfer all operations, maintenance, construction and other responsibilities for the turnpike to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) in an effort to streamline government and enhance efficiency.
If enacted, House Bill 1197 would require PennDOT to honor any collective bargaining agreement in existence between the Turnpike Commission and any employee organization. The bill also would assign debt of the outstanding bonds of the Turnpike Commission to the Commonwealth and would allocate turnpike tolls for repayment of the debt.
The Turnpike Commission is currently run by nine executives and is in charge of 545 miles of roadway. By comparison, PennDOT is run by seven executives and manages more than 41,000 miles of roadway.
The bill now awaits consideration in the House Transportation Committee.
While one suspects the bill would not make the toll booths go away, it is a good time to point out that these man-made traffic snarls are about the least efficient of all means of raising revenue with all sorts of hidden costs ranging from higher milk prices in supermarkets to creating a competitive disadvantage to the port of Philadelphia versus New York which shippers can use to access the interior via toll free I-80.
And of course, the cost of tolling interchanges means that there is a lot less of them than there would be with freeways which means longer drives to destinations which means wasted gas and more smog.
Except for commercial haulers. They will see a 15 percent increase as they will lose their 15 percent volume discount.
Exempted from the hike will be I-576 in the Pittsburgh area.
The money will be used to pay off bonds that were used for improvements to highways and mass transit systems.
OK, what does the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission have to do with mass transit systems?
This will be the fourth straight year the Commission has raised rates. The hike is expected to transfer $23 million from citizens to the state.
Gov. Corbett had promised not to raise taxes. He is deluding himself that increasing the transportation costs by 15 percent for those who use the state’s turnpike system to haul our food, manufactured items and consumer goods is not a tax hike, and one that will ultimately be borne by the consumer.
What’s really pathetic is that if revenue is needed highway tolls are an extraordinarily inefficient means of getting it.
This study of the system in Washington State showed that collection costs were $22 for every $100 raised, which was 25 times greater than those of a gasoline tax.
Of course, raising tolls means less screaming from us pheasants than, say, raising the gas tax. The pain is much less immediate and the source of it much less obvious. This is something well understood to those who earn their well-buttered bread by plucking us.
And also ignored by toll-road phanboys are the hidden costs. Aside from the smog-producing, gas-wasting slowdowns and snarls at the toll booths, turnpikes are extraordinarily inefficient means of providing transportation.
Consider that in the 20-miles of the free part of I-476 between I-95 and the first toll booth at Plymouth Meeting there are 10 exits. In the next 37 miles after the Plymouth Meeting interchanges there are three.
This means that there are a whole lot of drivers unnecessarily wasting time and gas on stop-light dotted roads than would be otherwise if our transportation planners were not strapped in considering the burden of toll collection.
After decades of trying to figure out what to do with the building, Delaware County, Pa. is almost ready to move its tourist department into the 18th Century Rose Tree Tavern in the county-owned Rose Tree Park in Upper Providence Township.
The county, in a typical display of its insecurity, calls the department the Brandywine Conference and Visitors Bureau. It should be noted that the Brandywine River will now be 12 miles away from the new HQ and the Brandywine Valley is an exceedingly small portion of the historically influential county.
Regardless, the historic building is now about to be put into use and we can now address the real issue. For 200-plus years, the building had stood about 200 feet to the southwest which meant it was almost directly at the corner of Rose Tree and Providence roads, the latter of which would become at that particular stretch the heavily traveled State Route 252.
Plans to install desperately needed turn lanes were always squashed due to the complexities relating to the historic structure. This meant long exhaust-emitting, gasoline-wasting traffic jams.
So it was moved back on Aug. 10, 2004 with PennDOT bearing the entire $1.25 million bill and fixing the jams became a simple thing.
So where are the turn lanes?
We have solar panels on the Springfield Library, we have brand new rails for the Route 101 trolley but we don’t have turn lanes at a infamous problem intersection the placement of which would have done far more to alleviate pollution — and achieve energy independence — than a hundred feel-good projects.
The refusal of “man-made global warming” activists to get involved in the mundane and practical solutions — like unsnarling traffic — to their various complaints is just one more reason to doubt their sincerity.
When they get around to demanding the end of toll roads and bridges is when you can get around to considering buying a Chevy Volt.