PENNSYLVANIA (WHTM) — “Today, the Pennsylvania Turnpike has more debt than the entire state government of Pennsylvania, and the only way to pay it is to raise tolls,” Pennsylvania Auditor General Timothy L. DeFoor said in a Wednesday release. “This is an unsustainable situation which highlights the need for innovative ideas and different solutions to rectify an issue that is decades in the making.”
DeFoor released an audit Wednesday analyzing the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission between June 2018 and June 2022. The audit found that the commission continues to struggle to meet its financial obligations and puts the burden on travelers, according to a release.
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The audit revealed the following three findings, according to the release from the auditor general:
- “The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission continues to face significant challenges to raise toll revenue to make future payments to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) under the current Act 44/89 financial structure, its associated debt payments and expenditures for capital projects.”
- “Uncollected tolls have continued to increase and therefore, the Commission must continue to seek new ways to collect tolls due from both in and out-of-state travelers.”
- “The anti-discrimination language in the Commission’s contracts for amenities provided to its customers at service plazas is outdated and lacking content.”
Acts 44 and 89 required the Pennsylvania Turnpike to fund PennDOT nearly half a billion dollars per year, and DeFoor says this law is in large part to blame for the turnpike’s financial troubles. This year, though, that amount was reduced to $50 million.
Also contributing to the turnpike’s challenges — uncollected tolls. There were around $155 million in unpaid Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls during the most recent fiscal year. As the turnpike shifted to all-electronic tolling the year before, there were more than $104 million in tolls that didn’t get collected.
Auditors found that about a quarter of uncollected tolls were uncollected because of unpaid invoices, unidentified license plates, or incorrect or missing addresses.
The audit offered 23 recommendations for improvements, and DeFoor says Pennsylvania’s legislators need to work with the Turnpike Commission to “ensure the Turnpike is financially viable for the future.”
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Recommendations include looking for ways to increase turnpike use; considering removing the requirement that the Turnpike Commission pay PennDOT $50 million annually; and offering additional payment options for drivers and finding other ways to reduce the number of unpaid tolls.
“We need to work at finding a solution that will make sure the Turnpike continues to provide an invaluable service to all who travel through Pennsylvania, without it being a financial burden,” DeFoor said in the release. “We recommend the General Assembly take another look at Acts 44 and 89 and consider drafting new legislation to mitigate the current debt burden placed on the Commission.”
The Turnpike Commission is “in general agreement” with the first two findings, the release from the auditor general says. While the commission agreed with some of the recommendations in the third finding, it disagreed with recommendations related to changing contract language, the release says.
Drivers may worry about continuing toll increases as the turnpike deals with its debt. DeFoor said that every year for the next 28 years, the turnpike will have to raise tolls to meet its financial obligations as it stands now.
The Department of Auditor General is required to audit the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission every four years.