Monday, June 22, 2009

What’s that toll increase for anyway?

I could use some help on a basic math problem.

If a turnpike authority takes in $56.6 million in 2008 and pays out $30 million for maintenance, salaries and services … how much would tolls need to increase to make up for the shortfall?

Yeah, their math confuses me too, but that’s precisely what’s going on in West Virginia.

In fiscal year 2008, the West Virginia Turnpike took in $26.6 million more than it paid out, yet the Parkways Authority plans on increasing tolls by 60 percent for cars and trucks during a board vote July 1.

Parkways officials say they need $238 million over the next five years to repair and replace sections of the turnpike with an emphasis on bridges. More than 100 of the turnpike’s 116 bridges are older than 25 years, and two “major” bridges are older than 50 years.

Toll increases are their way of coming up with $238 million, but there’s another way to skin that cat. If they were to stretch their improvement plan to 10 years instead of five, and stay $26.6 million ahead each year, they would have $266 million and shouldn’t need a toll increase at all.

By that rationale, the turnpike would still have $28 million left over, which could be used to cover cost inflation and wage considerations for their 394 employees.

Public input is supposedly shaping the considerations as the authority’s board plans for the July 1 vote. Let’s hope enough people weigh in to make a difference.

Back on Dec. 4, 2008, I posed similar a similar math question to turnpike officials in Pennsylvania – a question about incoming cash, outgoing expenses and what should be left over. I didn’t get a direct answer on that one as people seemed perplexed that there would actually be money left over.

To me, if any quasi-government entity is already taking in more than it pays out, there’s no justification for a toll increase beyond the rate of inflation.