The Road Ahead

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February/March 2021


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A study released by Australian insurance seller Budget Direct inaccurately named the PA Turnpike the costliest toll road in the world. The article, and subsequent reporting, was based on flawed research methodologies of a car insurance company. The so-called “report” failed to recognize basic differences in how toll highways are used, how toll rates are set and how travelers pay.

The report listed a PA Turnpike trip cost of $112.90, ignoring the fact that most customers (if any at all) don’t pay that much. In truth, most PA Turnpike travelers (more than 85%) use E-ZPass, which is $55.60.

The insurance firm failed to mention that, if a noncommercial driver ever did get such an invoice (again, doubtful), they’d have a chance to sign up for E-ZPass, get the discounted rate and save $57.30.

Finally, the report disregarded the widely ranging distances of the toll roads and bridges it compared. If it had done its homework, the PA Turnpike would have been the cheapest of the top three named most expensive. Our cost per mile for the trip selected was 25 cents. The second highest was $1.53 per mile, and the third costliest was 77 cents per mile (see chart).

The world’s most expensive tolls?

Toll Facility Report’s Ranking Toll Rate Specified Length (Miles) Per-Mile Cost
PA Turnpike 1 $112.90 443 $0.25
Grossglockner High Alpine Road (Austria) 2 $45.43 29.7 $1.53
Rijeka-Zagreb Split (Croatia) 3 $38.42 49.8 $0.77

While we might argue about the way the study was conducted, we will not argue that our customers do, in fact, pay a premium to use our roadway.

We have been compelled to raise tolls since 2009 because of 2007’s Act 44, which mandates that our agency transfer $450 million annually to PennDOT for transit operations. As a result of this law, we have transferred $7.337 billion in the last 15 years to PennDOT, which has caused us to accrue bond debt of roughly the same amount.

Our toll rates and our financial situation have been dictated by this statute. We look forward to 2022 and the sunsetting of Act 44/89, when our annual payments to PennDOT will be reduced to $50 million. Unfortunately, the fiscal damage, due to having to increase our debt, has already been done. Despite this reduction, our current projections show that we must still raise tolls by an average of 5 percent annually from 2022 to 2027. Tolls will likely increase by 3 percent starting in 2028 through approximately 2050.