The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is billions of dollars in debt, seriously behind on payments to the state, facing a major lawsuit from trucking groups, and eyeing the possibility of bankruptcy, according to new reports.
Several news outlets are reporting that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is now $11 billion in debt in spite of the fact that they have raised tolls by 200% over the past 10 years. The debt is so massive that officials say that they will need to raise tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike every year until 2044 to pay it off.
This flood of new reports of bad news for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission come after State Transportation Secretary Leslie Richards testified before the House Appropriations Committee during a budget hearing on February 26. Richards also serves as chair on the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
During the budget hearing, Richards also said that the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has missed its last three quarterly payments to the state of Pennsylvania. Richards said, “Three payments have not been made so far. The fourth payment is due in April and may not be able to be made.”
A lawsuit filed last year by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) and the National Motorists Association could put even more financial pressure on the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.
The lawsuit argues that the turnpike tolls are too high and place an unreasonable burden on truck drivers. The suit also accuses the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission of breaking federal law by using revenue generated from tolls for projects that are not Turnpike-related. The lawsuit is calling for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to refund $6 billion in toll revenue paid since 2007.
During the budget hearing, lawmakers asked Richards about what would happen if the truckers won the lawsuit.
Rep. John Lawrence asked, “Is it at least possible that the Turnpike might have to declare bankruptcy?”
“We have to start talking about what that would mean. It would be catastrophic to have to pay back $6 billion dollars right away,” Richards replied.
If the lawsuit is not settled by July, Pennsylvania may have to dramatically reduce funding for Amtrak and put the brakes on several planned construction projects.