A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a group of truck drivers and motorists over the use of tolls on the 359-mile Pennsylvania Turnpike.
At issue is the fact that the turnpike is required to fund road projects that are not part of the turnpike system, as well as mass transit projects in the state.
Because of the requirement, the turnpike has had to hike tolls each year for the past 11 years. Prior to that the turnpike had only hiked tolls five times over the last 64 years.
The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association Inc. and other plaintiffs, had sued the turnpike, arguing that tolls were rising out of proportion to the services being rendered.
The trucking group claimed that truck drivers account for about half of the tolls collected by the turnpike each year and have been facing an unfair burden for funding projects that were not related to their toll-road use.
U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that the plaintiffs failed to prove that the payment arrangement violated their constitutional right to travel.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission had called for the lawsuit to be dismissed and thanked the court for its action. However, it said in a statement, that it did not dispute that the funding system imposed under Act 44 is flawed.
Under Act 44, the turnpike is required to make annual payments of $450 million to PennDOT to fund public transportation projects. The commission has paid $4.6 billion to PennDOT to date.
“The decision does nothing to ease the burden that a decade of toll increases have taken on our customers’ pocketbooks,” the commission said in its statement. That relief must come from the Pennsylvania General Assembly by 2022 if not sooner.”
While the litigation was pending, meanwhile, the commission said it was unable to issue bonds. Because of that it postponed three quarterly Act-44 payments totaling $337.5 million.
The commission said it plans to catch up on the postponed payments by the end of the calendar year.
The plaintiffs said they were disappointed in the judge’s ruling but remain hopeful that the issue will be addressed.
“It’s pretty clear she understands the situation,” noted Todd Spencer, president of OOIDA. “But she also stated quite clearly that no definitive controlling precedent supports either side.”
Spencer said his group plans to appeal the dismissal.