2008-12-11 / Local & State

Turnpike Officials Warn Tolls About To Jump

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Drivers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike were reminded Thursday that the new year will usher in tolls that are 25 percent higher, with additional increases planned for future years.

The decision to impose higher tolls was made a year and a half ago with the passage of a landmark transportation bill. On Thursday, turnpike officials outlined the new toll schedule and noted that the money helps subsidize 74 mass transit agencies and repair the state's bridges and roads.

The turnpike system's vehicle counts have fallen in recent months, a decline attributed to high gas prices and the economic slowdown. But turnpike chief executive Joe Brimmeier said he was not worried that the greater cost might drive away trucks, just as a 42.5 percent toll jump in 2004 did not cut traffic.

"They'll stay on our road because it's a good road, it's one of the safest interstates in the country and they can get from Point A to Point B much quicker,'' Brimmeier said.

Brimmeier said the 2004 increase generated 127 complaints to the turnpike commission.

The most common toll paid by passenger vehicles will go from 75 cents to 95 cents, while a typical truck's tolls will be $7.85, up from $6.25.

The turnpike's annual revenues will climb from $619 million to about $738 million.

Higher tolls will take effect Jan. 4 over nearly the entire 545- mile system. The only exceptions are some newly opened sections of the turnpike in western Pa.

It will be the sixth rate change in 68 years, but the turnpike expects to begin increasing tolls every year, by about 3 percent annually.

The 2007 transportation bill also authorized the tolling of Interstate 80 across northern Pennsylvania, but federal regulators have stalled that proposal.

Brimmeier said the turnpike and state Transportation Department will consult with state lawmakers and then decide sometime next year whether to resubmit the application to the U.S. government.

The turnpike has about 2,250 employees and served 190 million vehicles last year. The recent drop-off in traffic has resulted in a small number of layoffs and buyouts.

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