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Auditor general says turnpike losing money on free passes

Mike Mancini | For the Tribune Review
Auditor General Jack Wagner (left) said on Monday, December 10, 2012, that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission isn’t properly monitoring the travel of employees and contractors whose free passes on the toll road totaled $7.7 million. He is shown here with Erik Wagner during the Amen Corner Holiday Reception at the Mansions on Fifth on Wednesday; December 5, 2012.

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Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, 3:38 p.m.
 

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission isn't properly monitoring the travel of employees and contractors whose free passes on the toll road totaled $7.7 million, Auditor General Jack Wagner said on Monday.

The precise amount of lost revenue could not be compiled because turnpike officials would not separate the data into personal and business travel, Wagner said. The audit covered the period from January 2007 to August 2011.

“With tolls set to rise again for turnpike customers on Jan. 6, turnpike executives should stop granting toll-free personal travel to its employees and assure the public that they are doing everything within their power to hold down future fare increases,” Wagner said. “This type of waste is disturbing and exhibits a careless disregard for those who foot the turnpike's bills: taxpayers and motorists.”

Stacia Ritter, director of government affairs for the turnpike, attended Wagner's news conference.

“We just received the draft (audit), and we'll respond to the issue when appropriate,” Ritter said.

“We are currently reviewing it, and we look forward to responding in a timely manner,” turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo Jr. said.

The turnpike approved a 10 percent toll increase for cash customers starting next month. The fare increase will be 2 percent for those with E-ZPass.

Wagner acknowledged legitimate reason exists to grant free travel to some officials, such as first responders, some state police, the “upper echelon” of PennDOT, troopers and others assigned to the governor's security detail. He said he could not provide a net figure on inappropriate use because of spotty information from the Turnpike Commission.

The problem is the free travel the agency does not properly monitor, Wagner added.

Here's how Wagner broke down the “lost revenue” as a result of free rides:

• Non-employee ID cards — 3,828 for contractors/consultants — accounting for $4.2 million.

• Special E-ZPass transponders — 1,609 devices — that cost the commission's coffers $2.1 million. The devices went to 655 turnpike employees, 905 state police and 30 other state officials. The commission took back 19 transponders from its engineering firm, Michael Baker Corp. as the inquiry by Wagner was under way, said Helen Weigel, director of the office of special performance audits.

• Employee ID badges issued to 2,132 employees that accounted for $1.4 million.

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 and bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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