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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – There are some new details about the financial trouble for the PA Turnpike Commission.
It is now $11 billion in debt and facing a major lawsuit.
Tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike have gone up every year since 2009.
So why is the turnpike failing to make its quarterly payment of an annual $450 million amount to PennDOT?
“Three payments have not been made so far,” said PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards at a House Appropriations Committee hearing last week. “The fourth payment is due in April and may not be able to be made.”
That money is dedicated to public transit, and Richards told the House committee that transit agencies, like the Port Authority Transit that get $75 million from the turnpike each year, need that funding.
“Those transit agencies are right on the cusp of just having enough for operating. Those transit agencies in those areas will have to make some difficult decisions,” Richards said.
Local lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee share those concerns.
“I think it’s important that we make sure that these funds continue to flow to the agencies that need them, so it’s a very serious concern,” PA Rep. Jim Struzzi, an Indiana Republican, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Tuesday.
The problem, it turns out, is a federal lawsuit filed last year against the Turnpike by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the National Motorists Association.
They say tolls from drivers and truckers should only be used for turnpike improvements, not public transit.
Given that claim, the Turnpike is holding up payment to PennDOT.
But lawmakers say this funding for local transit is essential.
“It’s not just a luxury for people in my district. It’s truly a lifeline,” said PA Rep. Austin Davis, a McKeesport Democrat.
“People depend on it not just to get to work but to get to doctors’ appointments and to go about their daily lives.”
Interestingly, the Turnpike’s $450 million obligation drops to $50 million in 2022, with the $450 million then coming from the state’s vehicle sales tax.
But, in the meantime, the pending lawsuit is holding things up.
“It’s terrible that we’re even put in this situation to begin with,” noted PA Rep. Jason Ortitay, a Cecil Republican.
“But until this lawsuit is finalized, there’s not a whole lot that we can do except wait and see.”
No word on when the judge will decide the case.