There’s a lot to be said about the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
It has an interesting history. In the 1930s, some enterprising folks correctly believed that a better route across the Keystone State’s mountains would simplify and quicken travel from one side of our commonwealth to the other. This new route would go through the mountains instead of over them via tunnels that had been built by the planned Southern Pennsylvania Railroad. The railroad plan was derailed after the tunnels were built.
When the new road was opened in 1940, it ran from Irwin, near Pittsburgh, to Carlisle and was hailed as a transportation marvel. It was the nation’s first superhighway, a “dream highway.”
And it was a toll road.
Toll roads were nothing new and turnpike referred to the long pole that blocked the road until the toll was paid. Then the pole was turned or lifted and the vehicle was permitted to go through. The tolls were to help keep the road or bridge, as it were, in good repair and suitable for traffic.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike had toll booths at the entrance and exit points, and vehicles were charged according to the miles they’d traveled on the ‘pike.
Anyone who drives in Pennsylvania is familiar with the turnpike and the toll system. At the risk of sounding like someone’s great-grandma, I will admit that when I was a child and we frequently traveled to the Broad Top area to visit grandparents, Dad often used the turnpike.
Although I’m not certain, we probably entered the road at Blue Mountain and exited at Fort Littleton, and the toll was 15 cents. I believe the toll for traversing the entire state on the 'pike was just a couple of bucks.
Flash forward: On the last leg of the return from our most recent trip to the Buckeye State, we entered the turnpike at Bedford. Having bemoaned the fact that E-ZPass holders pay considerably less than those paying with cash, we were sorely aware that a new method of toll collecting, “Toll by Plate” was in effect at some interchanges. Sure enough, Blue Mountain is one of those.
While I’m very much in favor of cutting costs, I rather liked having a human being take my money at the turnpike exits. Sometimes they’re grumpy, but sometimes they’re pretty nice and can give directions and answer other questions.
Furthermore, we all know that mismanagement and corruption (Oh, no!) have put the turnpike in the financial pickle it’s in now.
Anyway, I eagerly waited for my “Toll by Plate” bill to arrive. The toll was $8.70, and I was given options for payment. I also was told what could befall me if I failed to pay the toll.
Also included with the invoice was valuable information, explaining why this new method of tolling was instituted. It reduces traffic, improves safety, offers greater efficiency, enhances customer convenience, and results in reduced vehicle emissions.
I suppose eliminating employees falls under “greater efficiency,” but employee cost is a tiny part of the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s money problems. Taking turnpike money to pay for maintenance on other roads wasn’t part of the original plan, yet that’s what is happening.
Awarding contracts to incompetent “buddies” for kickbacks could have been part of the original plan, but it shouldn’t have been.
Admittedly, I have no knowledge on how many people lined their pockets over the years at the expense of the turnpike, but I’m willing to bet $8.70 that it’s a big number. Let’s collect from them and stop using turnpike tolls to build other roads.
What good is a “Dream Highway” if no one can afford to use it?