HARRISBURG, PA.- The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) today approved a six percent toll increase for both E-ZPass and cash customers; the toll increase will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 3, 2016. While the increase affects cash and E-ZPass rates similarly, E-ZPass customers will continue to save as much as 35 percent on PA Turnpike tolls next year. The E-ZPass discount was introduced in 2011; today, more than three-fourths of PA Turnpike travelers pay with E-ZPass.
As a result, the most common toll for a Class-1 (passenger) vehicle will increase next year from $1.09 to $1.16 for E-ZPass customers and from $1.70 to $1.85 for cash customers. The most common toll for a Class-5 vehicle - a prevalent tractor-trailer class - will increase from $9.05 to $9.59 for E-ZPass customers and from $12.80 to $13.60 for cash customers.
PTC Chairman Sean Logan said this 2016 toll increase - like the others over the last seven years - is needed, in part, to repay the substantial borrowing required to meet the PTC's financial obligations under state laws signed in 2007 and 2013.
"The legislature passed Act 44 in 2007, requiring us to make payments to PennDOT for roadway projects and mass-transit operations statewide; since then, we've transferred $4.75 billion to the Commonwealth for off-Turnpike investment," Logan said. "As a result of Act 89 of 2013, our payments will be lowered from $450 million a year to $50 million a year beginning in 2023. We welcome this relief, but we will still be required to make additional payments totaling almost $5 billion through 2057."
Logan said that while Act 89 does provide relief, it does not entirely eliminate the associated debt or funding requirement; therefore the Commission is obligated to increase tolls annually for the foreseeable future.
"We are confident that we can continue to moderate future increases through improved efficiencies, however we have no choice but to increase tolls as we move forward," he said. "At the moment, traffic and revenue forecasts estimate annual increases of three to six percent will be required until 2044."
The PTC has continued to focus on a variety of cost-saving measures to help mitigate yearly increases. For instance, it implemented a commission-wide strategic plan last year with renewed focus on controlling operating-expense growth; it has held operating costs to an average annual growth rate of less than 3 percent for the last five fiscal years; and it has reduced total headcount by seven percent in the last decade - and by 17 percent in the fare-collection department in the same timeframe as a result of increased E-ZPass usage.
Because of the effect of steadily rising tolls on customers and the Turnpike's 10-year capital plan, Logan last month asked the State Senate Transportation Committee to consider cutting the Turnpike's funding requirement even more. "In June, we asked the legislature to consider additional revisions to Act 44 and Act 89 to further reduce the PTC's funding obligations to the Commonwealth," he said.
In addition to providing supplemental off-Turnpike funding, recent toll increases have also been supporting the reconstruction and widening of the 550-mile Pennsylvania Turnpike system, parts of which turn 75 years old on Oct. 1.
"We have launched a vigorous plan to rebuild and expand the Turnpike, investing more than $600 million a year in improvements," said PA Turnpike CEO Mark Compton. "We have about 450 miles of roadway that must be rebuilt from the ground up and widened from four lanes to six; with 114 miles finished thus far, that leaves 336 miles to be rebuilt."
Even with this boosted spending, the Commission is racing against the clock due to the age of the toll-road system, working to stay ahead of pavement deterioration to provide a fit roadway for the future. "As a result, we were compelled to defer more than a dozen projects in our 10-year plan to curb future toll increases," Compton said.
Turnpike travelers can get E-ZPass at www.paturnpike.com or by calling 1-877-PENN-PASS (1-877-736-6727). Customers can also buy an E-ZPass GoPak at nearly 500 Pennsylvania retailers, including most AAA offices and at most stores in these chains: Acme, Giant Eagle and GetGo, GIANT Food Stores, Karns Quality Foods, Kuhn's Markets, MARTIN'S Food Markets, Walmart, Wegmans in central and eastern PA and Sunoco A-Plus stores inside PA Turnpike service plazas. The E-ZPass GoPak allows travelers to obtain a transponder that can be used immediately.
It costs $38 to open an E-ZPass account using a credit or debit card to set up an auto-replenishment account; the cost includes a $35 pre-paid toll balance plus the $3 annual service fee. In addition, E-ZPass retailers charge a one-time convenience fee (there is no such fee to join online or by phone). For a list of E-ZPass retail locations, visit www.paturnpike.com and click "E-ZPass."
E-ZPass has been available in Pennsylvania for 15 years. Today, a majority of Turnpike customers - more than 75 percent - choose to pay with E-ZPass. The PTC manages about 1.6 million active E-ZPass accounts, with about 2.2 million transponders in circulation. Nationally, there are more than 28 million E-ZPass tags in circulation among 26 toll agencies across 15 states, making E-ZPass the world's largest interoperable tolling system.