It doesn't come as any surprise that the Pa. Turnpike Commission announced a rate increase for 2014.

For individuals who use E-ZPass, the rate is just 2 percent, but for motorists who pay cash on the Turnpike, it's a 12 percent rate increase.

Rate hikes have become pretty regular by the Turnpike Commission. Remember, this is the same Turnpike Commission that lawmakers had wanted to take over Interstate 80 not too long ago. Aren't you glad that didn't happen?

Of course, it is those same lawmakers who are responsible for the rate hikes.

The January 2014 toll boost will be the sixth annual increase since the turnpike began transferring $450 million a year to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation in 2009 to help finance work on other state roads and bridges.

Many legislators hoped to substantially reduce those transfers as a part of a comprehensive transportation funding plan, but negotiations collapsed and the transportation legislation was left dangling as lawmakers left for their summer break.

The turnpike payments are a holdover from a 2007 law that dedicated billions of dollars to the state's roadwork and bridge repair needs and authorized the turnpike commission to collect tolls on Interstate 80. Federal regulators rejected the I-80 tolls, but the law continues to require the commission to make the annual transfers to PennDOT through 2057.

Commission CEO Mark Compton said action by the Legislature to reduce the transfers could hold down future toll increases.

Hopefully lawmakers will take heed. The problem then is where will the state get the funds to make up what they no longer get from the Turnpike Commission?

Cost cutting measures are going to have to be prioritized regarding highway spending.

One only has to look at the Route 903 bridge project to see how costs get out of hand. Should engineering on any such project really take so long?

Regarding E-ZPass, Turnpike officials say E-ZPass users are charged less because the electronic tolls are cheaper and faster than paying a turnpike employee to collect cash payments.

While that make sense, is a 12 percent increase at one shot justified?

The Turnpike Commission is shoving E-ZPass down the throats of all motorists who use the toll road. The problem is that E-ZPass is not a perfect system.

There are individuals still uncomfortable using E-ZPass and that should be their prerogative without being penalized.

Meanwhile, the Turnpike Commissioners, who are part-time, continue to receive their expensive perks.

Nobody said life is fair.

It's just that those motorists who rely on turnpike travel get unfair treatment all the way around, even from legislators who have robbed the turnpike funds to supplement general highway repair spending.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com [1]