Where some states build bridges to nowhere or roads without a destination, Pennsylvania knows exactly where things for the toll road are headed. Down a path to bankruptcy.
Act 44 of 2007 demands the Turnpike Commission not just use the tolls it charges to support its own needs. Instead of taking all those dollars and cents and rolling them into road maintenance and support, the state demands a kickback. The commission has to pay $450 million a year to PennDOT to pay for mass transit.
Essentially, the turnpike is being strong-armed by a thug, paying a regular fee to the big boss. Act 44 doesn’t care if business has fallen off. The money just better be there when it’s time to pay up.
Right now, between paying that money to the state and trying to cover maintenance, the commission is $11.8 billion in debt. That’s a deeper hole than the state, with all its education expenses and police and the pensions and health care of 80,000 or so employees, has dug. But the commission hasn’t been able to kick the ball downhill, demanding someone else pay its bill.
Oh, wait. It has. It just hasn’t worked. While the commission has no choice in paying the state, the people who drive on the turnpike do have a choice, and more of them are opting not to use it.
With navigation apps and GPS devices, it’s easy to program a route that doesn’t require $56.50 to drive from Ohio to New Jersey. Commercial traffic on the road is down about 2 percent, and a federal court case filed by truckers calling the siphoning of toll money a violation of interstate commerce could blow up the whole operation.
Harrisburg is trying to solve the problem it created. Nolan Ritchie, executive director of the Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee, said there are lots of ideas and they are “going to look at other states and how projects are funded for mass transit.”
Hopefully the next idea makes more sense than a mafia-movie shakedown scheme.