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Turnpike toll hikes approved

Published July 15. 2010 05:00PM

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Motorists on the Pennsylvania Turnpike soon will have a financial incentive to use E-ZPass, following approval of a new toll schedule that sets higher rates for people who pay with cash.

The turnpike commission voted Tuesday to increase rates by 10 percent for cash customers, but only 3 percent for those who use E-ZPass, currently about two-thirds of all turnpike vehicles.

When the new rates take effect on Jan. 2, it will be the first time that E-ZPass users will pay less than others for the same trip.

The turnpike has increased rates seven times in 70 years, including two increases in the past year and a half. Tolls rose 3 percent at the start of 2010, and were increased 25 percent in January 2009.

The turnpike estimates the higher fees will produce about $35 million a year.

Annual toll increases were called for in a July 2007 state law that dedicated billions to fund the state's roadwork and bridge repair needs, and authorized the addition of tolls to Interstate 80 although federal regulators have rejected the I-80 plan.

Under that law, known as Act 44, the turnpike must provide $450 million a year to the state government for the next 47 years.

"I want to make it clear to our customers and to all Pennsylvanians that we've done our best to streamline operations and become more efficient, especially after the economic downturn," turnpike chief executive Joe Brimmeier said in a written statement.

He said the agency has cut about 200 jobs in the past decade and reduced expenses for such items as conferences, travel, utilities and building security.

Tolls on the turnpike depend on how far a motorist drives.

The new rates for cash customers will be rounded to the nearest nickel, and for E-ZPass customers to the nearest penny.

One exception will be the Findlay Connector, Interstate 576, near Pittsburgh International Airport.

Those coin-machine fares will not change.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike manages more than 1.2 million of the 20 million E-ZPass transponders currently in use across the country.

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