Pa. Turnpike Gridlocked with $7 Billion Debt

Monday, 27 Aug 2012 09:23 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is more than $7 billion in debt after borrowing aggressively to meet demands of a 2007 state law to keep up funding for statewide road and bridge repairs.
Toll increases have doubled over the past 10 years, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Monday, but the turnpike’s financial obligations continue to grow. Loan payments are expected to stretch until 2057.
The 2007 law required the turnpike commission to provide $900 million a year for state transportation projects. To help with funding, lawmakers authorized the commission to convert Interstate 80, which parallels the turnpike in northern Pennsylvania, to a toll road. But the U.S. Department of Transportation denied a request for the toll conversion in 2010.
Road projects across the state depend on money generated by the turnpike. The $450 million the commission passes on to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation amounts to about 12 percent of the department's budget.
According to the Inquirer, concerns have been raised about the possibility of the commission defaulting on its outstanding loans, despite more than doubling the turnpike tolls since 2003. Tolls are expected to jump again in January, and the cost for driving the entire length of the turnpike from Ohio to New Jersey will be $39.10.
State Auditor General Jack Wagner called the debt situation "unsustainable," despite the toll hikes.

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