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Pennsylvania

Audit to examine impact of toll hikes on Pennsylvania Turnpike traffic, revenue

Theresa Clift
| Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, 4:45 p.m.
Turnpike employee Michael Fontanazza, who supervises the New Stanton exit, monitors traffic moving through EZ Pass and full service lanes on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Turnpike employee Michael Fontanazza, who supervises the New Stanton exit, monitors traffic moving through EZ Pass and full service lanes on Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016.

The state auditor general's office will conduct a performance audit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission in light of concerns that annual toll hikes will cause traffic to decline and generate less money for important construction projects.

“What we want to analyze is their belief from their consultants that despite the increase in tolls, they'll have increased traffic,” Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “I am not convinced this is going to happen.”

Turnpike tolls are set to increase by 6 percent starting Sunday, for the 10th year in a row.

The average toll for cash-paying customers will be $2.10, while the average for E-ZPass customers will be $1.30. The cash toll was 75 cents in 2008.

DePasquale said his audit will also review whether the turnpike's annual payment to PennDOT can be reduced.

The commission has paid nearly $6 billion to PennDOT since August 2017 to help pay for road and bridge projects and for public transit systems statewide, according to the commission.

The audit will determine exactly how much debt the turnpike commission currently has and examine the commission's process of selecting construction contractors, DePasquale said.

DePasquale did not name any specific contracts that caused concern.

“We get feedback on (social media) on contracting across the board, and the turnpike is no exception,” DePasquale said.

A state audit released in September 2016 found toll violations were increasing, causing the commission to write off $12 million to $20 million per year, the release said.

The turnpike is being audited again sooner than usual, DePasquale said.

“Because I'm that concerned,” he said.

The audit should be complete this year, DePasquale said. It will cover June 2015 through May 2017.

Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said in a statement: “Public transparency and accountability is a critical check and balance for an agency such as the commission, especially given the impact we have on the Commonwealth's economy, mobility and safety. We look forward to working with the Auditor General to complete this vital work and will cooperate fully as we have during recurring audits in the past.”

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, tclift@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tclift.

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