Pennsylvania Turnpike Tolls OK’d by Third Circuit

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – The Third Circuit ruled Tuesday that tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are permitted by Congress to pay for other state projects and do not violate the rights of truckers and other drivers.

Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association sued the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission last March, claiming the high toll cost on the turnpike violated the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. In April, a federal judge ruled it did not, shutting down the $6 million class action.

After oral arguments held last month, the Philadelphia-based appeals court upheld the decision, noting that the use of toll money for other state highways, trails and bridges is allowed under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act.

Squashing the truck drivers’ argument that the more than 200% toll increase is excessive, Shwartz found there is no cap for toll prices under the Act.

“The fact that Congress allowed states to use toll money on non-toll road projects presupposes that funds exceeding the amount needed for the toll road would be collected,” U.S. Circuit Judge Patty Shwartz wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel.

Shwartz, appointed by President Barack Obama, said drivers switching to non-toll roads to avoid costly tolls does not necessarily mean that the right to travel is infringed on.

“Because plaintiffs allege only that the increased tolls have caused and will continue to cause Turnpike users to switch to non-toll roads in the future, and not that interstate or intrastate travel has been or will be deterred, they have not stated a claim that their right to travel has been infringed,” the 24-page ruling states.

As of 2007, state law allows the turnpike to give $450 million annually to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation through the year 2022 for other state projects.

Tolls for the 359-mile highway have been on the rise for the last 11 years, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is $11.8 billion in debt.

Attorneys for both parties did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is represented by Robert Byer of Duane Morris, while the trucking group is represented by Paul Cullen Sr.

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