Last updated: February 20. 2013 1:38AM - 254 Views

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For cash-paying motorists, the latest spike in the cost to drive on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which took effect Sunday with a 10 percent toll hike, means it's time to get E-ZPass. In fact, it's long past time.

And for Harrisburg policymakers, including Gov. Tom Corbett, state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), and other legislative leaders, the latest toll increase is another sign that their plan to solve the funding crisis is overdue.

Of the two issues, the math for motorists is easier to grasp. Given the turnpike's increasingly generous discounts for paying tolls electronically, cash customers now have to hand over 25 percent more than E-ZPass users.

The previous E-ZPass discount was 17 percent. That wasn't enough over the last two years to drive several hundred thousand turnpike customers to sign up. But the jump to a 25 percent premium could push the number of turnpike regulars with E-ZPass far above the current 68 percent.

That's key to the Turnpike Commission's plans to phase out all cash toll collections over the next five years or so, enabling it to trim expenses.

The tougher fiscal problem for motorists is the annual $450 million payment the agency must make toward road and bridge repairs and mass transit subsidies.

PennDot funding for the turnpike falls far short of meeting transportation needs estimated in the billions of dollars by a Corbett task force and earlier studies. That's where state officials need to intervene with a plan to raise additional revenue before a bridge collapses.

An increase of only a few pennies in the state's gasoline tax, or a menu of fee increases and a bump in another fuel-related tax -- as suggested by the governor's own task force -- could both do the job easily.

Maybe having to pay higher tolls to and from Harrisburg finally will spur state leaders into action.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

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