Watch Now

Lawsuit over Pennsylvania Turnpike tolls dismissed

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which was among the plaintiffs of the class action suit filed last year, said it will appeal the ruling issued Thursday.

   The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) said it will appeal a federal judge’s dismissal of a class action lawsuit filed last year challenging the constitutionality of “excessive tolls” on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
   The plaintiffs — which included OOIDA, the National Motorists Association, B.L. Reever Transports, Flat Rock Transportation and Mulligan Trucking — claimed the tolls hurt interstate commerce. They also claimed the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) gave some of the funds collected from tolls to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) for projects that do not benefit the turnpike, which they said was a violation of the Commerce Clause.
   U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Senior Judge Yvette Kane’s memorandum Thursday dismissing the lawsuit said the transportation funding has “resulted in a statutory scheme that disproportionately burdens turnpike travelers with the costs of a statewide transportation system that is of no direct benefit to them,” but the court found the plaintiffs’ “factual allegations do not support a claim for violations of the dormant Commerce Clause or the constitutional right to travel.”   
   “The court finds that the allegations in plaintiffs’ complaint fail to support a reasonable inference that the constitutional right to travel is by the toll structure of Act 44/89,” she said in the memorandum. “Accordingly, the court will grant the commonwealth and PTC defendants’ motions to dismiss plaintiffs’ constitutional right to travel claim.”   
   Defendants included Gov. Tim Wolf (pictured), PTC and PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards.
   The OOIDA said the suit is poised for review by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
   “This lawsuit is far from over,” said Todd Spencer, president of the OOIDA, in a statement. “And win or lose on appeal, the turnpike’s debt crisis and the commonwealth’s transportation emergency aren’t going away either. This is a crisis created by the legislature’s decisions, not our lawsuit.”
   Acts 44 and 89, which were passed in 2008 and 2013, respectively, ordered the PTC to pay $450 million a year to PennDOT through 2022 and then $50 million annually through 2057. The payments will total $9.65 billion by the final year, according to the judge’s memorandum.
   The PTC has had to raise tolls for 11 straight years to make the payments, which has increased the most-common cash rate to $2.30, reported. According to PTC, “truckers pay $392.30 to drive from the Ohio-New Jersey borders of the turnpike; with an E-Z Pass, the cost dips to $281.80,” reported Transport Topics.
   The PTC, which the OOIDA said is nearly $12 billion in debt, had a gross total revenue of $1.11 billion in 2017, according to court documents. The gross revenue is more than 215 percent higher than the cost of turnpike services ($517.1 million) that year.
   The commission had suspended its payments to PennDOT while the judge considered the lawsuit, but plans to make up the missed installments — $337.5 million — by the end of 2019, according to PennLive.