Our friends in public transportation, PennDOT and at the Turnpike Commission received some welcome news last week. A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by independent trucker and motorist associations challenging the constitutionality of the arrangement in which the Turnpike provides a $450 million annual subsidy to PennDOT. Most of that is used to support public transportation.
Specifically, the complaint centered on the toll increases resulting from the Turnpike’s subsidy obligation and the fact that the proceeds have been used for things other than turnpike operations and improvements. The plaintiffs asserted that the toll increases impeded their constitutional right to travel. They demanded that the subsidies cease, and that the money that has been collected be refunded.
In dismissing the lawsuit, the judge said that a burden on the most convenient route of travel is not a burden on the constitutional right to travel. In other words, as long as there are ways other than the Turnpike to travel through the state, their rights are intact. She also noted that in-state and out-of-state travelers pay the same tolls.
Because of the lawsuit, PennDOT had suspended the subsidy payments for nearly a year, but said last week that it would make them up by the end of the year. The trucker and motorist associations said they will appeal the federal court’s decision.
To this old farmer, the decision appeared to be thorough and well-reasoned, but even if it stands, it only delays the inevitable, which is that $400 million of the subsidy sunsets in 2022, which will require the subsidy to be paid from the General Fund. Even with a $30-plus billion annual state budget, that’s quite a hole.
Be of Good Cheer,
— The Wolff
Transportation Issue Update
- Here is the Associated Press account of the dismissal of the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the increasing Turnpike tolls.
- Here is an article about the plaintiffs’ intention to appeal, including a statement from the plaintiffs.
- PennDOT, the Turnpike Commission and Associated Pennsylvania Constructors held a news event to alert motorists to the need to slow down and be alert in work zones.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says small business owners bear the brunt of costs for deteriorating infrastructure.
- SEPTA and the Turnpike Commission were among those presenting the Southeast Partnership for Mobility’s ideas for generating more revenue for transportation.
- Bills in the state Senate and House would postpone a program authorized last year to give oversight of the state’s medical assistance transportation program to private brokers.
- The Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway received environmental approval for the re-routing of a section to avoid two ash basins in the original plans.
- PennDOT is soliciting public input of its performance last winter.
- Now that New York City is trying it, other cities across the country – including Philadelphia – may explore congestion pricing as a way to generate funding for transportation and reduce traffic congestion.