Sep 17, 201212:20 PMCity Beat
Capital Opinion by Michael A. Sand, Jacqueline G. Goodwin and others.
Pennsylvania Turnike $7 Billion in Debt
To meet the financial demands created by Act 44, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is now more than $7 billion in debt, up from $2 billion in 2002 and $4 billion in 2009.
The burden continues to grow, with the turnpike required to make payments until 2057.
"Because of insufficient sources of cash flows from current operations, the commission plans to issue debt for the foreseeable future to finance its required payments to PennDOT," the commission's auditors reported in the agency's current annual financial report. "There can be no assurance that the commission will be able to continue to issue debt on terms that are acceptable, or at all, to finance these obligations."
Highway and bridge projects around Pennsylvania have grown dependent on the money from turnpike toll-payers, and so have transit agencies such as SEPTA.
If the turnpike stopped making its $450 million-a-year payment to PennDot, the already strapped state transportation budget would lose about 12 percent of its financing.
That could cost SEPTA about $160 million of its state operating subsidy of $616 million a year, a 25 percent cut that would force fare hikes and service cuts for local bus and train riders.
If the turnpike defaulted on the payments on its Act 44 debt - which it says it will not do - state law would require taxpayers to pick up the tab through the gasoline tax. The turnpike's liabilities now exceed its assets by more than $1.3 billion, a sharp turnabout since 2009, when its assets exceeded its liabilities by more than $150 million.
Meanwhile, tolls have risen sharply: Next January, the cash toll for driving a car from Ohio to New Jersey will rise to $39.10 and the E-ZPass toll will go to $30.77. In 2003, the cost was $14.70.
In 2014, tolls will increase by an additional 3 percent. And they will continue to rise every year after that.