EYEWITNESS NEWS (WBRE/WYOU) — Tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike have seen consistent increases in recent years, leaving motorists to foot the bill.

On Wednesday, Auditor General Timothy DeFoor held a press conference on his department’s audit of the PA Turnpike Commission.

According to DeFoor, the PA Turnpike Commission still faces several significant challenges to meet its financial obligations, putting the burden on travelers.

“Today, the Pennsylvania Turnpike has more debt than the entire state government of Pennsylvania, and the only way to pay it is to raise tolls,” DeFoor said. “This is an unsustainable situation which highlights the need for innovative ideas and different solutions to rectify an issue that is decades in the making. The Turnpike Commission didn’t get into this situation by itself. The legislature and executive branch need to work together now to ensure the Turnpike is financially viable for the future.”

DeFoor stated that the PA Turnpike Commission is about $13.2 billion in debt while comparing it to the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s debt which is around $11.7 billion.

DeFoor said his department found three key findings during their audit.

First, Defoor said the Turnpike Commission continues to face challenges from current legislation to raise toll revenue. Second, uncollected tolls, totaling up to $104.9 million, have continued to increase and the commission must find new ways to collect tolls from in-state, and out-of-state, travelers. Third, the anti-discrimination language in the Commission’s contracts for service plaza amenities needs to be updated.

The Auditor General’s Office offered 23 recommendations for improvements.

For the entire audit report, please reference the document below.

PA Turnpike CEO Mark Compton welcomed DeFoor’s recommendation to work with the state legislature and highlighted recent debt taken on by the Commission.

We appreciate the work of Pennsylvania Auditor General Timothy DeFoor and his team. The findings of the auditor’s report released today confirm that the PA Turnpike Commission continues to meet our commitments to our customers even as we emerge from a pandemic that drastically impacted our operations, traffic, and revenue while continuing to shoulder the financial burden of Act 44.

One of the main findings was that the Turnpike has taken on significant debt because of Act 44 — $8 billion in all — to pay PennDOT $450 million annually for more than a decade to support non-Turnpike transportation needs around the state. While those payments have recently been reduced to $50 million annually, and we have managed debt efficiently and controlled operating costs, paying the accrued debt will require ongoing toll increases for the next 28 years.

As General DeFoor referenced today, the Turnpike is vital to the Commonwealth’s economy, linking families and friends while accommodating cross-state commercial traffic; so, the toll increases necessitated by this debt are among the most difficult votes our commissioners must make each year.

The Auditor General goes a step further, recommending that the Turnpike and state legislature work together on measures to further relieve our organization from the resulting debt-service obligations and release travelers from these incessant, mandatory toll increases. We at the Turnpike welcome any opportunity to work with the General Assembly to find creative, innovative solutions to mitigate the financial burden on our customers because of Act 44.

PTC CEO Mark Compton

The Commission also provided Eyewitness News a letter written in response to DeFoor’s audit draft.