Auditor General to begin audit of Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission

Auditor General to begin audit of Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission

Author: Jason Gottesman/Wednesday, January 3, 2018/Categories: News and Views

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced Wednesday that his office will soon start an audit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.


It will be the office’s second look at the commission in the last five years and will cover a period from June 2015 through May 2017 and will assess the performance, procedures, operating and capital budgets, debt and accounts of the Turnpike Commission.


Specifically, the audit will focus on the commission’s revenue collections and if the commission is meeting anticipated toll revenue projections in order to meet its statutorily mandated payment obligations and planned capital improvements. It will also take a look at the process by which the commission selects and awards construction contracts.


“The Pennsylvania Turnpike is a critical part of Pennsylvania’s transportation infrastructure and a key thoroughfare for commercial, commuter, and leisure travelers,” DePasquale said.


“Since the turnpike is such an important part of Pennsylvania’s economy and mobility, it is important to periodically assess the toll road system’s financial and operational health."


The last look at the Turnpike Commission by the Office of Auditor General was a special report released in 2016 that focused on fiscal years 2014 through 2016.


That report found that the commission is carrying an unrealistically high debt load under Act 44 that requires it to pay PennDOT $450 million per year through 2022. That money is used to support public transit agencies in local communities throughout Pennsylvania.


Beginning in 2023, those payments are to drop to $50 million per year, leaving a potential $400 million gap in public transit funding without future legislative action.


While the reduction in payments may be a relief to the commission and shift the issue to state and local government proper in the future, there still remains a short-term issue requiring the commission to continue to rely on toll increases to cover the payments, especially in the wake of stagnant turnpike utilization.


“In short, this means the turnpike must continue to raise rates every year and it must increase the number of vehicles that use the roadway by historic levels,” DePasquale said at the release of the last audit.


“There’s no way more people are going to use the turnpike and pay more and more money to do it.”


The Turnpike Commission approved a six percent increase in tolls for 2018, a motivating factor for the audit, DePasquale said.


The audit at the time also found that the Turnpike Commission is utilizing over-inflated revenue projections in order to remain afloat while the number of toll scofflaws increased and toll-free riders increased.


DePasquale said Wednesday he is hoping for the same kind of results from the audit soon to get underway.


“Through this audit I hope to provide an accurate picture of the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s status, and — if necessary — make recommendations for improvement," he said.


The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission did not immediately return a requested comment in response to DePasquale’s announcement.