PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Uncollected tolls from the Pennsylvania Turnpike continue to increase.
According to findings by State Auditor General Timothy L. DeFoor, missed tolls stand at more than $104 million.
The vast majority of unpaid tolls come from Turnpike users who do not use E-Z Pass, according to reports. The 86% of Turnpike drivers who use E-Z Pass pay automatically when tolls are electronically debited from prepaid accounts.
The remaining 14% of Turnpike drivers use a system called Toll By Plate, in which cameras at toll booths take a picture of the vehicle’s license plate and then bill the owner through the mail.
These 14% of drivers are responsible for the 7% percent of unpaid tolls, meaning roughly half of Toll By Plate users don’t end up paying for their ride.
DeFoor says the Turnpike Commission continues to face significant challenges in meeting financial obligations to PennDOT.
This is the final year the Turnpike will need to pay PennDOT $450 million, as approved under prior laws. Beginning in the fiscal year of 2023 and continuing through 2057, that amount will drop to $50 million a year.
DeFoor said the amount of debt the Turnpike faces is concerning and believes that the legislature needs to work together to ensure it remains financially viable in the future.
"Today, the Pennsylvania Turnpike has more debt than the entire state government of Pennsylvania, and the only way to pay it is to raise tolls," DeFoor said. "The Turnpike's debt is $13.2 billion."
The audit also found that too much of the burden is being placed on travelers of the Turnpike. Auditor General DeFoor recommended government and Turnpike officials take steps to lower operating costs in an attempt to reduce this burden.
Pa. Turnpike CEO Mark Compton responded to Auditor General DeFoor's report on Wednesday, saying that the Turnpike has taken on significant debt because of Act 44, which required the Pa. Turnpike Commission (PTC) to provide PennDOT with $450 million annually for highways, bridges, and public transit.
"While those payments have recently been reduced to $50 million annually, and we have managed debt efficiently and controlled operating costs, paying the accrued debt will require ongoing toll increases for the next 28 years," Compton said in a statement.
Compton references Auditor General DeFoor's recommendation that the Turnpike and state legislature "work together on measures to further relieve our organization from the resulting debt-service obligations and release travelers from these incessant, mandatory toll increases," and said that the commission welcomes the opportunity to work with the General Assembly to find "creative, innovative solutions" to mitigate the financial burden brought on customers by Act 44.