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Trib editorial: The toll from Act 44 widens

| Saturday, March 24, 2018, 3:51 p.m.
Truck traffic on the Pennsylvania Turnpike has fallen since officials began imposing annual toll increases almost four years ago. (Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review)
Truck traffic on the Pennsylvania Turnpike has fallen since officials began imposing annual toll increases almost four years ago. (Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review)

For some of Pennsylvania government's more egregious mistakes, the public never stops paying. Act 44 is one of those mistakes.

The 2007 legislation, the brainchild of former Gov. Ed Rendell and a subservient Legislature, diverted $450 million annually from the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to PennDOT. To grease that rather large skid, the plan called for tolling Interstate 80, which the federal government nixed. But the annual payments to PennDOT remained.

Since then, Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls have increased nearly 200 percent. But so long as the public paid up, state lawmakers made no meaningful effort to change the law, which since 2007 has funneled nearly $3.6 billion in toll receipts not to turnpike maintenance but to the state's mass-transit agencies. Another $2.3 billion has funded non-turnpike highway and bridge improvements.

Now two national trucking organizations are suing the Turnpike Commission for $6 billion, claiming it placed an undue burden on interstate commerce while generating revenue for “services and facilities … that have no functional relationship to the Pennsylvania Turnpike system.” A similar lawsuit in New York is being appealed.

Heaven knows where the $6 billion will come from if the Turnpike Commission loses this fight. And that sum could grow larger if more parties join the truckers' lawsuit.

Act 44, with its massive PennDOT payout, should have been amended when the I-80 tolling option died. For this shortsightedness, the public already has paid plenty in unending turnpike toll increases.

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