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Cross-state turnpike trip likely to hit $50 by 2021

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By The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 18, 2013, 10:57 a.m.
 

The cash toll for a cross-state trip on the Pennsylvania Turnpike is expected to reach about $50 by 2021, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said on Tuesday. He urged lawmakers to halt spiraling debt from the contributions the turnpike must make toward other state transportation needs.

Legislators are considering a major expansion of transportation spending and appear to generally agree that any plan should gradually eliminate Turnpike Commission subsidies. There is no consensus on some details, including the length of a phase-out.

“The longer it takes to phase out that debt, the more expensive it will be,” DePasquale, a Democrat who took office in January, told the House Transportation Committee.

DePasquale presented a report that documents how the annual transfers of hundreds of millions of dollars from the turnpike to PennDOT that began in 2007 are forcing significant toll increases and hurting the turnpike's financial condition as it borrows money to make the mandatory payments.

As of May 31, the turnpike had paid out $3.9 billion that was financed by $4.3 billion in debt, he said.

Major credit rating agencies — Moody's, Standard & Poor's and Fitch — have downgraded the turnpike's bonds since the 2007 law was enacted.

The turnpike's total debt obligation, excluding interest, increased from $2.5 billion in 2007 to nearly $8 billion last year.

The payments are a holdover from a 2007 law that dedicated billions of dollars to the state's roadwork and bridge repair needs, and authorized the turnpike commission to collect tolls on Interstate 80. Federal regulators rejected the I-80 tolls, but the law requires a $450 million-a-year transfer to PennDOT through 2057.

The cash tolls DePasquale cited have increased faster than E-ZPass tolls as the commission tries to get motorists to switch to the electronic system.

The cash toll for the 357-mile turnpike trip from the Gateway interchange near the Ohio border to the Delaware River Bridge into New Jersey is $39.15. It is expected to reach $49.59 in eight years, DePasquale said.

 

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