HARRISBURG (KDKA) — If you think fares on the turnpike are too high now, just wait.
“The cost of a cross-state trip in 2017 will be four years ahead of projection — will be $51.85,” state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
Unless the legislature acts, that $51 toll will double to just under $100 over the next few decades.
A 73-page audit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission by DePasquale has more bad news — toll cheaters.
“In the year 2015-16 alone, drivers racked up $61.3 million in unpaid tolls and fees. At the end of that year, nearly $42.3 million of that remained uncollected,” he said.
As KDKA’s John Shumway first reported last year, some drivers take a toll ticket and then blow through the EZ pass lane to exit without paying.
Turnpike chairman Sean Logan agrees with DePasquale that lawmakers must toughen the consequences, and soon.
“If you are a habitual violator or run up a huge bill with us, I can’t put points on your license. I can’t go after your registration,” said Logan.
The auditor general says the Turnpike’s growing financial crisis started eight years ago when the legislature required the Turnpike to turn over to PennDOT $450 million each year in Turnpike tolls.
“To meet its debt payments, it must increase tolls 215 percent,” said DePasquale.
At the time, lawmakers thought Interstate 80 would be tolled and money would pour in, but the feds nixed that tolling idea.
State lawmakers never rescinded the $450 million annual payment and that, DePasquale says, now jeopardizes Turnpike construction and requires higher tolls for everyone.
Exacerbating the solution, PennDOT uses the money for public transit.
“If not addressed, [it] will cause serious economic harm,” he said.