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Opinion

Turnpike toll hikes a necessary evil

| Saturday, Sept. 27, 2003

Normally, we're among the last to endorse any fee or tax increase, but in the case of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, it may be justified.

Anyone who has done much driving on the state's 530-mile turnpike system can readily understand the need for an upgrade. Parts of the road, especially in southwestern Pennsylvania, are in deplorable condition.

Even though business is good on the turnpike -- collections during the past fiscal year hit a record $399.5 million from 178.3 million vehicles -- turnpike officials say they can only afford to fix four miles of the road each year.

At that rate it would take more than 132 years to fix the whole thing, and we shudder to think what our local roads might look like after a century of neglect.

Making matters worse, the Turnpike Commission contends it needs to repair 640 bridges along the road that have been in place for 40 years or more. Two of the bridge projects, which span the Susquehanna and Allegheny rivers, are projected to cost at least $100 million each.

To cover these costs, the commission is likely to increase its tolls, something that hasn't happened since 1991.

"There's no other way but to raise tolls," said Joe Brimmeier, executive director of the Turnpike Commission. "It may make us one of the highest toll road agencies in the East, but we're also the oldest, with lots to do."

Pennsylvania's tolls of 4 cents per mile on the mainline aren't out of line when compared to the rest of the nation. Massachusetts drivers, for instance, pay 5.5 cents per mile. Other similar averages are 4.3 cents per mile in West Virginia and 4.1 cents per mile in Oklahoma and Wyoming.

We'll reluctantly support a toll increase, but only if all the money is guaranteed to be used to improve and maintain the roadways and to make traveling the Turnpike a little bit safer for everyone who drives through Pennsylvania.

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