HARRISBURG, PA (NOV. 4, 2005) - Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission CEO Joe Brimmeier said today that House Bill 2137 - approved Wednesday in the state house and now forwarded to the senate for consideration - is based on flawed assumptions and could prove detrimental to the Turnpike’s vital highway reconstruction program if enacted.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. John Evans, R-Erie, would mandate a 25-percent discount to E-ZPass motorists who use the Turnpike during off-peak hours. Its sponsor claims the measure is necessary because the Turnpike’s Aug. 1, 2004 toll increase diverted cars and trucks off the toll road, clogging other state highways.
But Turnpike and PENNDOT traffic data prove otherwise, according to Brimmeier, who cited rising Turnpike traffic counts and decreasing volumes on some other interstates. “Suggesting that our toll increase resulted in a diversion of commercial traffic from the Turnpike is inaccurate,” Brimmeier said. “In fact, commercial traffic on the Turnpike since the increase has actually increased by 3.5 percent, while commercial traffic on the interstates mentioned by Rep. Evans remains flat or has decreased.”
Brimmeier added that the bill could deprive the commission of the revenue it needs for capital improvements, the most important of which is the total reconstruction of the 65-year-old highway. “This piece of legislation would result in an annual revenue loss of $30 million,” said Brimmeier. “Such a shortfall would have a damaging impact on our capital improvement program, and it could even force us to re-evaluate our commitment not to raise tolls for the rest of this decade.”
He added that traffic volumes on the Turnpike during the off-peak discount time periods would have to increase by at least 33 percent to recover the $30 million shortfall generated by a 25 percent discount. “We don’t believe that such a hefty revenue loss can be made up by increased use of the Turnpike due to an off-peak discount,” Brimmeier said.
Brimmeier also cautioned against legislative influence on Turnpike pricing - another potentially detrimental side effect of HB 2137. “This is the first time in the Turnpike’s 65 year history that the legislature has sought to involve itself in setting toll rates on the Turnpike,” he said. “Legislative intervention in this area could cause credit-rating agencies to downgrade the Turnpike’s credit rating, thereby increasing our borrowing costs.” Because the Turnpike relies primarily on toll revenues and bonds issued to fund capital improvements, downgraded bond ratings could also jeopardize future construction and improvement projects on the Turnpike.
“I sincerely hope the senate carefully researches the facts surrounding this legislation and comes to the conclusion that the House Bill 2137 - well intentioned though it may be - does very little to benefit any of the affected groups, including local communities, private and commercial motorists, and the Turnpike Commission itself,” Brimmeier concluded.