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Turnpike Blasted for Freebies

The Pennsylvania Turnpike could be paying a high price for a policy to allow free travel for employees, contractors, and state officials.

According to numbers from the Turnpike requested by the Auditor General’s office, the toll road lost $7.7 million dollars in toll revenue between 2007 and 2011 due to free passes it offers to employees and others for work and personal travel. The figure also includes toll fare never collected from consultants, contractors, State Police, PennDOT officials, and people from the governor and lieutenant governor’s offices.

“Free travel during these very tough economic times when the public, the motoring public is faced with toll increases each and every year simply should not exist all the time for a certain class of people,” said Jack Wagner, the state’s outgoing Auditor General. He added that he’s not against free work-related travel for employees, but he doesn’t believe specially-designated travelers should get the same carte blanche.

Seven million dollars over a four year period may not look like much compared to the Turnpike’s multi-billion-dollar debt – and Wagner acknowledges that not all of the seven million dollar figure amounts to abused free travel. But he said the Turnpike can’t afford to waste a dollar, and the agency should be closely monitoring its free passes for possible abuse.

“It’s about doing the little things right,” Wagner said. “There has to be far greater oversight of free travel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.”

In a letter sent to the Turnpike Commission Monday, he asked the agency to address his concerns before higher tolls go into effect next month.

A spokesman for the Turnpike said the letter was received Monday afternoon and agency officials are still reviewing Wagner’s concerns.