PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The Pennsylvania Turnpike’s CEO says the turnpike is facing a catastrophic money crisis, especially if the General Assembly requires the turnpike to continue to fund PennDOT $450 million out of tolls each year.

“If we are asked to continue these payments beyond 2022, catastrophic is also a word I would use as we talk about the state of the turnpike,” Mark Compton said in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Compton and Deputy PennDOT Secretary Jennie Granger spoke at the Engineers Club at a program sponsored by the Engineers Society of Western Pennsylvania and the Airport Corridor Transportation Association.

KDKA money editor Jon Delano moderated the discussion.

Delano: “When are we going to stop raising tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike?”
Compton: “There will be toll increases for the foreseeable future. Just thinking in round numbers, we’re over $11 billion in debt today.”

The turnpike borrows nearly $1 billion every year with half of that for PennDOT to fund public transit like the Port Authority.

That requirement to fund public transit ends in three years.

After that, public transit dollars are supposed to come out of general taxes, not tolls, a prospect that worries PennDOT.

“There’s a lot of competing interests in the General Fund, and the last time I checked there wasn’t just $450 million sitting out there unobligated to someone,” Granger said.

Still, Compton said he hopes the legislature will begin to phase out the payment to PennDOT this year, while Granger said local transit authorities may need new local taxes.

“I like the ability for the locals to also help raise some revenue above and beyond what the state is coming forth with,” Granger said.

The funding crisis could mean a new tax based on how many miles you drive a car.

“Longterm, I believe country-wide, not just in the commonwealth, you’re probably going to see some kind of mileage-based user fee system, potentially instead of a gas tax,” Granger said.

Or maybe in addition to the gas tax, skeptics would add.

Any changes in either funding public transit or increasing or changing taxes will require the approval of the General Assembly and Governor.