8/14/2019Federal Appeals Court Upholds Tolling For General Revenue
Federal Appeals Court green lights higher tolls for Pennsylvania drivers for use on transit and other unrelated projects.
The Pennsylvania Turnpike can keep charging motorists hundreds of millions in tolls every year and use the cash for purposes wholly unrelated to use of the road. That was the decision handed down Tuesday by the Third Circuit US Court of Appeals, which rejected the challenge filed by the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) and the National Motorists Association (NMA) to this funding arrangement.
The groups had targeted a state law known as Act 44, under which the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has so far handed over $6 billion in tolling profits to PennDOT for uses that have nothing to do with servicing the toll road. According to the groups, the exorbitant tolls -- double the amount needed to run the road -- violated the Commerce Clause and hindered the right to travel. The three-judge appellate panel disagreed, pointing to a transportation funding bill that allowed the "use" of excess toll profit for transit projects.
"Congress... may authorize a state to take actions that burden interstate commerce," Judge Patty Shwartz wrote for the court. "Congress's authorization that toll revenues be used for purposes other than maintaining and operating the toll road, and servicing its debt, necessarily envisions that a public authority can collect funds that exceed a toll road's costs before it can spend them."
The federal law in question also requires a toll road to certify the toll road is "adequately maintained" before spending on unrelated items, but the Turnpike never submitted these certifications. The court remained unpersuaded.
"Their failure to comply with this condition, however, does not diminish the fact that Congress has legislated in the area of interstate commerce at issue and blessed the use of tolls for non-toll road purposes," Judge Shwartz wrote.
The proper remedy, the court said, would be for US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to forbid the Turnpike from collecting tolls until it comes into compliance with federal law. The Pennsylvania Turnpike has run into legal troubles before. Pay-to-play scandals and what the state auditor described as an unsustainable business model are reflected in the rates charged to the public. A trip across the state costs $47.55 for a car and can cost up to $1836 for a commercial truck.
A copy of the ruling is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.