OOIDA-Backed Lawsuit Over Pennsylvania Turnpike Tolls Dismissed
The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on April 4 dismissed the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s class-action lawsuit claiming the state lets the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission collect “excessive” tolls, hampering interstate commerce.
Also claimed was that the commission obtains almost all of its operating revenue from tolls but gives some of those funds to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for projects that don’t benefit those using the turnpike.
OOIDA was joined by Flat Rock Transportation, Milligan Trucking Inc., other trucking businesses, the National Motorists Association and individuals.
“Pennsylvania law authorizes the PTC to fix and adjust tolls to generate funds for services and facilities provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Judge Yvette Kane’s memorandum said in dismissing the suit.
Defendants included Gov. Tom Wolf, PTC and PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards.
OOIDA vowed to appeal.
“This lawsuit is far from over,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer said. “Win or lose on appeal, the turnpike’s debt crisis and the commonwealth’s transportation emergency aren’t going away. This is a crisis created by the Legislature’s decisions, not our lawsuit.”
According to state law, Act 44/89, PTC’s annual payments to PennDOT are $450 million through fiscal 2022, then reduce to $50 million a year through 2057. By then, PTC’s annual payments will total $9.65 billion, according to the judge’s memorandum.
“The PTC obtains the funds necessary to make the annual Act 44/89 payments from turnpike tolls and from bonds it issues, the interest and principal of which are paid from tolls,” the judge said.
Act 44 required PTC to provide PennDOT with $450 million annually for highways, bridges and public transit; Act 89 of 2013 modified the payments to dedicate the full amount to public transit.
OOIDA v. PA Turnpike Order by on Scribd
The Pennsylvania Turnpike runs for 359 miles, beginning at the Ohio state line in Lawrence County and ending at the New Jersey border at the Delaware River Bridge in Bucks County. Add the Northeastern extension and Western extension, and the turnpike covers 552 miles. Costs approach $400 for trucks driving the entire way.
PTC does have financial problems: $11 billion in debt coupled with missing its mandated toll revenue payments to the state government for more than a year.
“Our organization must continue to make annual payments of $450 million to PennDOT through FY 2022 for which we have thus far amassed $6 billion,” Turnpike CEO Mark Compton said.
As recently as last month, some officials floated the possibility of the turnpike seeking federal bankruptcy protection if OOIDA won the lawsuit.
But bankruptcy “is not a valid legal option for a state agency,” PTC spokesman Carl DeFebo said.
However, he added the turnpike wants to stop raising tolls every year to cover its operating costs and long-term state transportation obligations.
“This decision does nothing to ease the burden that a decade of toll increases have taken on our customers’ pocketbooks,” Compton said. “That relief must come from the Pennsylvania General Assembly by 2022, if not sooner.”
Truck drivers and other motorists using the turnpike have seen rates go up 11 straight years as a result of Act 44.
Westbound traffic on the Pennsylvania Turnpike by Wikicommons.
Truckers pay $392.30 to drive from the Ohio-New Jersey borders of the turnpike; with an E-Z Pass the cost dips to $281.80, according to PTC.
“We’re seeing about a 6% increase in turnpike tolls every January,” Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association President Kevin Stewart said. “It absolutely is big money, and some carriers have started to look for ways to avoid the turnpike in general, or certain segments of the turnpike, to save themselves some money.”
The nation’s oldest highway system got into a deep financial hole awhile ago. In 2007-08, Pennsylvania’s infrastructure was crumbling and then-Gov. Ed Rendell and the state Legislature worked out a 75-year deal to lease the turnpike to the private sector for nearly $13 billion and a share of toll revenue.
“We urgently need new funding for road and bridge repair, and a turnpike lease will help us meet that need,” Rendell said in 2008. “Under the terms and conditions we set, the turnpike will be upgraded and tolls will be no higher than the turnpike commission will charge.”
But by 2009, the touted deal collapsed and the state and a consortium led by Spain’s Abertis Infraestructuras were blaming each other, leaving the state without the big payoff.
That led to Act 89 in 2013, earmarking PTC’s annual payment exclusively for mass transit.
Five years later, OOIDA brought its class-action suit, claiming the tolls place an undue burden on interstate commerce and calling for a refund of $6 billion in tolls paid since 2007 to those using the turnpike.