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