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Local Senator Favors PA Turnpike Debt Relief Proposal

HARRISBURG PA – State Sen. John Rafferty, who represents Lower Pottsgrove, Limerick and Pottstown, supports Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to repeal a 2007 law that has driven the Pennsylvania Turnpike deep into debt, The Pennsylvania Independent online news service said Wednesday (Feb. 6, 2013). Even if the law ends, though, motorists can expect turnpike tolls will continue to rise up to 5 percent annually for as much as 15 years, it added.

Local Senator Favors PA Turnpike Debt Relief Proposal

The Pennsylvania Turnpike exit at Valley Forge

“We’re going to try to contain those increases,” said Rafferty, who also serves as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Committee members are considering several options to accomplish the goal, according to The Independent. Other lawmakers also say they back the repeal and are looking for ways to lessen the impact on drivers.

The increases will be necessary to continue capital projects on the highway and pay for debt service payments.

The governor’s budget, introduced Tuesday (Feb. 5) would sunset Act 44 of 2007 within 10 years. It will take longer than that, however, to retire the turnpike’s $8 billion in debt.

Corbett announced a five-year funding plan that would increase a portion of the state’s gasoline tax in order to direct up to $1.8 billion in new cash for road, bridge, mass transit and freight projects. Rafferty said Wednesday he would like to see more revenue included in the plan.  He would favor an increase in vehicle registrations and other fees charged to motorists.

Under the act’s provisions, the turnpike was authorized to borrow more money for capital projects and increase tolls annually for 50 years in order to cover the costs. In return, the turnpike was required to pay $450 million annually to the state. Those payments are split, with $250 million funding other highway and bridge projects and $200 million funding mass transit, mostly in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Repealing the act would leave a decade for the legislature to find a way to replace those lost revenues, The Independent reported.

“The increases will be less once the Act 44 payments end, a few years after it ends,” Secretary of Transportation Barry Schoch said. “There is a lag of a few years before you start seeing toll reductions because you have to pay for the debt we have already incurred.”

Turnpike debt climbed from about $2.6 billion to more than $8 billion in the six years since Act 44 was passed. To pay for it, tolls on the turnpike have been hiked five times in five years; more than 70 percent for toll-paying customers and 36 percent for those paying with EZ-Pass.

Photo from Google Images

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