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Audit: Pennsylvania Turnpike raising tolls to pay debt is 'unsustainable'

Audit: Pennsylvania Turnpike raising tolls to pay debt is 'unsustainable'
Audit: Pennsylvania Turnpike raising tolls to pay debt is 'unsustainable' 03:05

HARRISBURG (KDKA) - The Pennsylvania auditor general said the Turnpike has more debt than the entire state government and continuing to raise tolls is an "unsustainable" solution. 

Auditor General Timothy DeFoor released an audit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission on Wednesday, which his department is legally mandated to probe every four years. 

"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 in a press release. "This is an unsustainable situation which highlights the need for innovative ideas and different solutions to rectify an issue that is decades in the making. The Turnpike Commission didn't get into this situation by itself. The legislature and executive branch need to work together now to ensure the Turnpike is financially viable for the future."

The audit found the commission is struggling to make payments to PennDOT, uncollected tolls have continued to increase and the anti-discrimination language at service plazas is "outdated." 

DeFoor recommended the General Assembly look at Acts 44 and 89 and draft new legislation to mitigate the current debt burden placed on the commission. 

The commission said last month that it has transferred nearly $8 billion in funding to PennDOT since Act 44 was passed in 2007, mainly in the form of bond debt that has to be repaid over a 30-year period.  The commission has been increasing tolls annually since 2009, and its current plan calls for increases of 5% through 2025, followed by lower increases before leveling out at 3% from 2028 to 2050. 

Truck driver organizations said something needs to change. Truckers are paying hundreds of dollars to go across the state. According to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Associates, it could drive people to take other roads or just avoid driving through Pennsylvania.  

"You're going to see more diversion to other roads and also diversion to other states, " OOIDA President Todd Spencer said. 

Auditors also found about a quarter of uncollected tolls were because of unpaid invoices, unidentified license plates or because PennDOT either had the wrong address or no address at all, resulting in $104.9 million in uncollected revenue.

DeFoor said the problem was years in the making and won't be solved with just one solution. He said the governor, General Assembly, Turnpike Commission and PennDOT need to work together and do more than just have meetings. 

You can read the full report and all the auditor's suggestions here.

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