Lawsuit puts crimp in funding scheme for Pa. mass transit

Tony Romeo
December 16, 2018 - 4:00 am

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) -- A funding scheme for mass transit systems in Pennsylvania is being hindered by a lawsuit over rising Turnpike tolls that have resulted from the plan.

The plan enacted in 2007 sees the Pennsylvania Turnpike borrow $450 million-a-year, money that now goes to mass transit for system improvements. But the Turnpike toll hikes that have followed prompted a lawsuit, and the Turnpike Commission has decided to wait for a ruling from the court before borrowing more money.

So far, the Turnpike Commission has missed two quarterly payments, totaling $225 million.

Spokesman Carl DeFebo says the plan is to make everyone whole if there is a ruling in favor of the Turnpike.

“That would be the intent of the Turnpike Commission, it would be to make good on those payments,” he said. “That is correct.”

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On the other hand, a ruling against the Commonwealth would have far-reaching ramifications. The money borrowed by the Turnpike goes to PennDot, which disburses the funds to mass transit systems.

A PennDOT spokesman says the agency has been using reserve funds in the absence of Turnpike dollars.

A SEPTA spokesman says that agency is expected to get more than 80-percent of what was projected for this fiscal year.

If the shortfall is not made up, he says some projects may have to be delayed. Meanwhile, the funding plan has contributed $6 billion to the Turnpike’s total of $11 billion of debt, and another 6-percent hike in Turnpike tolls takes effect in January.

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