Auditor General Criticizes Turnpike Officials Over Free Tolls
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – State Auditor General Jack Wagner has just a few weeks left in his term of office, but he’s not about to quit his famous audits quite yet.
Today, he sent a letter to Pennsylvania Turnpike officials, criticizing the Turnpike Commission’s toll-free travel to many state employees and contractors when the Turnpike’s debt is up by 200 percent.
If Wagner has his way, some Turnpike Commission employees and vendors would have to turn in their free EZ Passes that cost more than $7 million in lost revenue.
“Without knowing precisely who’s using the card, in other words, handing over to a contractor 50 cards, and not knowing which employee is using the card and when they are using it and at what interchange they’re using the card and for what purpose,” Wagner said at a Harrisburg press conference on Monday.
Wagner accused Turnpike authorities of sloppy cost controls, allowing toll-free travel for many who were not engaged in official turnpike business.
Specifically, the Auditor General said free Turnpike travel was given to 2,132 employees at a loss of $1.4 million, to 3,828 consultants and contractors at a loss of $4.2 million, and to 1,609 officials and state police for a loss of $2.1 million.
While some of the travel was legitimate and job-related, Wagner said the commission allowed free personal travel at a time when Turnpike tolls are going up again on Jan. 6 for customers.
“And when you’re asking for a toll increase each and every year, you better be able to justify to the public. In addition, we believe there needs to be greater transparency in this whole process,” Wagner said.
Wagner had a number of policy recommendations, including tighter monitoring of EZ Passes and Turnpike-provided identifications.
While Wagner said much of the travel might be legitimate, there was no way of knowing for sure.
The fact that the number of people who could ride the Turnpike for free had grown 60 percent in the last 15 years to over 7,000 people would make anyone suspicious.