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All electronic tolling? It's a great idea

| Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's planned move by 2018 to all-electronic tolling is a step worth taking. But it's the sort of half-measure “reform” that utterly ignores the need to rid Pennsylvania of this scandal-plagued, corruption-fostering and unnecessary agency.

All-electronic tolling will mean little change for E-ZPass users. License plates of motorists without E-ZPass transponders will be photographed so they can be billed for higher tolls, similar to today's higher cash tolls. The commission expects smoother, quicker, safer traffic flow and cost efficiencies from eliminating toll plazas and collectors, the Pennsylvania Independent reports.

But even if all aspects of all-electronic tolling go as planned, Pennsylvanians still will be stuck with an agency — whose role PennDOT could and should take over — that consistently paves the way for abuse of the public trust.

Think of the long-standing political-patronage practice of turnpike jobs going to friends and relatives of the well-connected. Think “pay-for-play” turnpike schemes such as the one alleged this spring that led to criminal charges against former turnpike CEO Joe Brimmeier and two other former top commission officials, former state Senate Democrat leader Bob Mellow (already imprisoned for campaign corruption), two turnpike vendors and others.

All-electronic tolling's fine — but in the context of the turnpike's legacy of corruption, it's at best a diversion from the real, fundamental issue of doing away with the commission.

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