Share This Page

Turnpike tolling: Advance, cautiously

| Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 9:01 p.m.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission says it's determined to upgrade to 21st-century technology. Hear! Hear! But with a state grand jury investigation of alleged turnpike corruption ongoing since 2009, the modernization should be viewed warily.

A contractor hired in July will implement all-electronic tolling in a five-year project, officials say. Existing toll plazas will be replaced by “gantries” spanning turnpike lanes to automatically deduct tolls from E-ZPass users' accounts and photograph other motorists' license plates to send them bills.

The upfront cost is estimated to be $250 million. But estimated annual savings from eliminating 755 unionized toll collectors, about 100 nonunion toll-plaza workers and the plazas' energy and maintenance costs will be at least $97 million.

That's a welcome counter to the turnpike's growing sea of red ink, despite repeated toll increases that far outpace the rate of inflation.

But all-electronic tolling reminds us of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's withholding tax: You won't readily appreciate what you're paying. And even with voluminous toll-rate signage, costs could fly under the public's radar.

Turnpike operations seldom have been the paragon of openness and “best management practices”; automatic tolls could give the agency cover for more public fleecing.

The turnpike touts the project as bringing greater safety and convenience — no more slowing or stopping to pay tolls — plus reduced emissions from vehicles idling in line. That's fine. But past being prologue, if there's a way to corrupt the system, turnpike officials will find one.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.