State Senators Grill Toll Highway Officials Over Lost Revenue, Suggest Border Tolls, Double License Plates On Vehicles – CBS Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – State senators grilled Pennsylvania Turnpike officials during a Senate Transportation Committee hearing over the loss of more than $ 100 million in toll revenue last year.

Over a year ago, the commission eliminated real people at toll plazas, replacing them with an automated mail-in toll system for those who did not have an E-ZPass.

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But there is a problem. Only 54% of toll users who received an invoice actually paid, a loss of $ 104 million.

“It’s not a small number. We’re not talking about a million dollars. This represents 104, nearly 105 million dollars in lost tolls, ”said Senator PA Wayne Langerholc, chairman of the committee.

“One hundred million dollars is just unacceptable – it doesn’t matter if your collection rate is 98% – it’s still a big number for taxpayers,” added PA Senator Marty Flynn, a Democrat from Scranton.

Turnpike officials defended their automated system.

“ADT allows us to be a more modern system. This allows us to move away from the bottlenecks that are the toll stations. This allows us to reinvest in the pavement, ”said Craig Shuey, chief operating officer of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

Senators complained that residents of Ohio and New Jersey were using the freeway for free, and Senator PA Elder Vogel, a Republican from Beaver County, asked why there was no toll at the Ohio border in a westerly direction.

Vogel: Why do you stop toll booth at the freeway at Cranberry and let them drive 32 miles of freeway?

Shuey: Honestly, I do not know.

Turnpike officials said they would consider placing a toll plaza near the Ohio border.

But when officials said they were also looking to exploit the proposed bridge replacement tolls for PennDOT on I-79 and other highways, Senator PA Devlin Robinson of Bridgeville was skeptical.

“Do you consider with this $ 104 million deficit that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is willing to charge up to a million additional drivers a day across the Commonwealth?” Robinson said. “Why are we installing these new toll bridges all over Pennsylvania and not at the borders to capture out-of-state residents? “

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Turnpike officials said they had no role in determining PennDOT’s choice of nine toll bridges.

Despite the loss of millions, toll officials say they collect 93% of all toll charges.

Part of the toll by mail problem – a loss of $ 17 million – comes from license plates that are clogged or too difficult to read by automated devices.

“One thing that can help is if the plates are readable. If you drive in the Commonwealth you can see the plates are starting to fade and there are issues there, ”said Shuey.

Vogel told officials he had a suggestion.

“You see a minibus with five bikes in the back and obviously you can’t read the license plate, which begs the question: would it be worth putting a front license plate on our car? ? Asked the Beaver County Republican.

Dr Melissa Walden of Texas A&M University, who wrote a study on this issue, said 30 states have double plates because it improves law enforcement and toll collection.

“This gives cameras or scanning technology a better chance of getting the correct plate,” Walden told KDKA editor Jon Delano.

Walden said the cost of a second plate is “negligible,” but some say it interferes with the appearance of the front of the car.

Turnpike officials have said they will work with PennDOT to research the idea of ​​double plates.

“We would be open to – we will work with you… to put together some numbers on what it would cost and with PennDOT,” said Mark Compton, managing director of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

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So far, this idea has not gone beyond the discussion stage.

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