C O M M I S S I O N N E W S R E L E A S E
PA Turnpike To Consider 1.8 Cent-Per-Mile Passenger Vehicle Toll Increase
Would represent first toll hike in 13 years
100% of new revenue would go directly to safety improvements, reconstruction
HARRISBURG (Jan. 13, 2004) – Pennsylvania Turnpike CEO Joseph G. Brimmeier today announced that he and the Turnpike engineering and safety staff are recommending to the Commission a toll increase of 1.8 cents per mile for passenger vehicles – from the current rate of 4.1 cents per mile to a new rate of 5.9 cents per mile. The increase would match the rate of inflation over the 13 years since the last hike in 1991. Commercial vehicles would see an average increase of 5.3 cents per mile.
Brimmeier said the increase would allow the Turnpike to double its current rate of capital spending over the next 10 years, allowing the Turnpike Commission to fund critical infrastructure improvements along the aging east-west “Main Line” and Northeast Extension – projects that, if not completed, threaten the safety and economic viability of a vital commercial highway system that is expected to carry 183 million vehicles in 2004.
“The Turnpike is an essential link in Pennsylvania 's economic and recreational infrastructure and a vital connector to America 's northeast corridor,” said Brimmeier. “And the critical and long-overdue need to invest significantly more in Turnpike safety improvements and reconstruction has been well documented and widely reported. It has been 13 years since Turnpike tolls have gone up, and more than a quarter century since we've had an increase that was earmarked to rebuild the original roadway.
“When engineers designed the Turnpike prior to World War II, opening year traffic was projected to be no more than about 1 million vehicles a year. They certainly could not have foreseen that number would soar to more than 180 million vehicles per year – or that some of those vehicles would weigh as much as 150,000 pounds.
“Today, our Turnpike is safe and reliable. But the cold truth is that it will not be safe and reliable much longer if we do not act now. And the only way we can do that is to increase tolls.”
“The Turnpike currently has hundreds of bridges that are now at or soon approaching their design life expectancy of 50 years,” said Turnpike Chief Engineer Al Jansen. “And more than 400 miles of our roadway is still at its original configuration – not consistent with current standards recommended for the volume of traffic those roads now bear. Safety requires that the Turnpike invest in rebuilding and modernizing these bridges and roadways, so that they are brought into line with 21 st century design and construction guidelines.”
“Any time you can soften curves, widen medians or ensure the timely repair of aging road surfaces, it provides motorists with a greater opportunity for a safe trip,” said Captain James Garofalo, the commanding officer of Troop T – the Pennsylvania State Police troop assigned to patrol the Turnpike. “These improvements will have a direct and positive impact on the safety of the motoring public.”
Brimmeier said every penny of new toll revenue will fund capital improvements to the Turnpike's road surface, its more than 800 bridges, five tunnels and other system upgrades. The improvement projects are detailed in the Turnpike Commission's 10-Year Capital Plan – a blueprint to increase the safety and viability of the oldest toll road in the nation, while decreasing congestion.
“Not one penny will go toward new administration costs or increased bureaucracy,” Brimmeier said. “This is all about investing in the best – and oldest – toll road in America .”
Without the additional toll revenue, Brimmeier said the Turnpike only could afford to upgrade about four miles of highway a year. The toll increase would enable the Turnpike to completely rebuild approximately13 miles of the original road surface each year, and to replace bridges that are more than 50 years old.
The five-member Turnpike Commission will vote on the proposed increase at its next public meeting on Jan. 20. If the staff recommendation is approved, the toll hike would not go into effect until Aug. 1, 2004 , giving Turnpike customers an opportunity to prepare for the increase.
“ Pennsylvania 's truckers have told us that a six-month delay in the implementation of any toll increase is critical, to allow them to build the new cost into their contracts,” Brimmeier said. “We are recommending a six-month implementation of the increase to accommodate their legitimate interests.”
The last toll increase in 1991 was mandated by the Pennsylvania Legislature to cover the cost of new Turnpike expansion projects. The last time tolls were increased to cover the costs of improvements to the original stretch of highway was in 1978 – more than a quarter-century ago.
The Commission's 10-Year Capital Plan substantially accelerates the total reconstruction of the original mainline of the Turnpike, along with bridges that are soon to pass their life expectancy of 50 years. Improvements would include wider shoulders, the widening of medians from 10 feet to 50 feet, where possible, and adding new lanes to accommodate projected traffic increases. Additionally, sections that still have steel median barriers will be upgraded to concrete barriers, significantly reducing glare from opposing traffic.
The Turnpike was originally engineered in the 1940s to accommodate 1.3 million vehicles annually. Traffic since has increased well beyond those levels. In 1991, approximately 102 million vehicles traveled on the Turnpike; in 1994, that figure shot up to 121 million; and in 2000, that number increased to 160 million, including 21.3 million heavy commercial vehicles. This year, more than 180 million vehicles are projected to travel the Turnpike, including approximately 24 million heavy commercial vehicles.
Here is a snapshot of just some of the projects in the Turnpike 10-Year Plan, by region (see attached regional breakout for additional details and projects):
Widening to six lanes from Valley Forge to Norristown
Norristown interchange improvement and lane addition
Susquehanna River Bridge replacement
Lebanon/Lancaster interchange improvement and lane addition
Allegheny River Bridge replacement
Portions of road rebuilding from Carlisle to Ohio border
With so many new construction projects planned throughout the 10-year improvement phase, Turnpike officials said there are plans to shorten the length of construction zones - in many instances from 10 miles to six - and to increase the distance between separate construction projects. The Turnpike also will continue to look for opportunities for night construction, lessening the burden to drivers during peak travel times.
In addition, some sections of the toll road now posting a 55 mph speed limit may be raised to 65 mph once improvements are made.
Brimmeier also was joined at today's announcement by the Turnpike's chief financial officer, Blair Fishburn, who said that a revenue increase of $1 billion over 10 years will increase the Turnpike's highway capital spending by $1.5 billion. Based on industry estimates, that will generate economic activity of $3 billion and will create 7,000 new construction industry and related jobs.
“While no one likes the idea of paying higher tolls, our customers should know that every penny in increased tolls will go directly to the roads they drive on,” Brimmeier said. “Our customers' safety is our number-one priority. We owe it to them to advance construction projects that will improve and enhance our roadway and ensure them the safest and smoothest trips possible.”
Highway maintenance and upgrades are funded entirely by tolls. While construction of new toll roads – such as Southwestern Pennsylvania 's Mon-Fayette Expressway – is paid for by legislatively mandated funding, no state taxpayer dollars pay for the maintenance of and improvements to the Turnpike's east-west “ Main Line ” and Northeast Extension.
P.O. Box 67676, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7676 Phone: (717) 939-9551 Fax: (717) 986-9649