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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

PA Turnpike Raises Tolls For 8th Straight Year

Turnpike motorists, get ready to dig a little deeper.  Effective Jan. 3, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is hiking tolls for an eighth straight year.

Cash and E-ZPass customers will pay an additional 6 percent in 2016. E-ZPass remains the least expensive option at its discounted rate. 

“E-ZPass customers can save as much as 35 percent,” spokesman Carl DeFebo said.

Drivers typically use the turnpike for the length of one exit, he said, making it the most common fare hike. For example, the cash rate for one exit is increasing from the current $1.70 to $1.80; the E-ZPass rate will change from $1.09 to $1.16.

The cash-less, E-ZPass system was created in 2000. Officials added a discount to the program the following year. According to DeFebo, 75 percent of turnpike motorists now use E-ZPass “because of the convenience and discount.” 

That increase to E-ZPass users has resulted in 200 fewer toll collector jobs, but all through attrition, he said. Traffic volume, meanwhile, continues to rise. The turnpike brings in more revenue every year despite the annual toll hikes, he said. 

“Some people are making the decision to take shorter trips on the turnpike," he said. "We’re hearing from some customers who have decided instead of getting off at their usual exit that (they) might hop off one exit early and then take state routes or local roads to get to their destination.” 

Under Act 44 from 2007, the commission is required to make annual payments of $450 million to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for roadway projects and mass transit operations across the state. DeFebo said the revenues from the toll increases also go toward turnpike improvements.

“We’re completely rebuilding the turnpike from the ground up near the Allegheny Valley exit (48) between Allegheny Valley and Monroeville (exit 57), but we’re also investing in new infrastructure on the Southern Beltway out by Pittsburgh International Airport," he said. 

DeFabo said crews are currently looking at about $1.7 billion in ongoing turnpike construction. Postponement isn't an option, he said. The Pennsylvania Turnpike is the oldest interstate in the nation — 75 years young back in October, he said.

Act 89 passed in 2013, the state's $2.3 billion dollar transportation funding plan, dropped the turnpike commission's annual payments to PennDOT from $450 million this year to $50 million in 2023. But motorists won't benefit from that,DeFebo said. 

"We’ll still have to implement annual toll increases even after that," he said, "because the turnpike has taken a substantial debt to fund the payments to date.”