The Turnpike mess: Act 44 bites back |

The Turnpike mess: Act 44 bites back

The Pennsylvania Turnpike’s massive debt hangover — the result of an idea that was doomed from the start — must not be allowed to become a skull-splitting headache for taxpayers.

State Act 44 of 2007 obligated the turnpike to fund road and bridge work and mass transit statewide to the tune of $900 million annually — and was premised on tolling Interstate 80. When the federal government predictably rejected that idea, the turnpike’s obligation was halved. But The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the agency is going ever deeper in debt to pay the $450 million it now owes PennDOT annually until 2057.

Despite tolls doubling over the past decade and continuing to rise yearly, the turnpike is $7 billion in the red, up from $2 billion in 2002. And if it defaults on those annual payments, state law says taxpayers will have to make up the shortfall through Pennsylvania’s gasoline tax.

Meanwhile, the turnpike just keeps borrowing, assuming traffic and toll revenue will rise. Yet revenue-miles peaked in 2003 and it’s projecting toll revenue will drop 4.4 percent this year.

“The situation is unsustainable,” says Auditor General Jack Wagner. He’s expected to testify at legislative hearings on turnpike finances in September.

Sparing taxpayers the burden of a turnpike default must guide reform. Harrisburg must find ways to fund transportation needs that don’t perpetuate the wishful thinking behind Act 44 or the deficit-spending mentality of turnpike management.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.