As public officials look to public-private partnerships and toll roads as one way to address the issue of infrastructure funding, one question that comes up is whether fewer trucks will use the toll roads, thus leading to lower toll revenues than anticipated
A truck enters the Pennsylvania Turnpike. (Photo by Ben Schumin via Wikimedia Commons)
A truck enters the Pennsylvania Turnpike. (Photo by Ben Schumin via Wikimedia Commons)
and more trucks on secondary roads.

A story in yesterday's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review says truck traffic on the western end of the Pennsylvania Turnpike has declined sharply since officials began increasing tolls annually four years ago, but it's not clear how much tolls are to blame and how much is due to the recession.

"Some worry that the latest increases beginning on Sunday will drive more trucks onto local roads as truckers seek to avoid higher tolls," writes reporter Tom Fontaine. "Tolls will have jumped 35% for E-ZPass customers and 71% for cash customers since 2009."

Turnpike officials blame decreased truck traffic on the recession, not higher tolls.

Jim Runk, executive director of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, said the recession was probably a factor, but told the paper, A number of our members said they would use alternate routes, like I-80, to get to the Northeast after a 25% toll hike in 2009.

That 2009 hike was the first in a series of increases that started after passage of the Act 44 transportation funding law, which requires the turnpike to turn over $450 million a year to PennDOT for road, bridge and transit needs statewide.

A Hempfield, Pa., resident who lives near Route 30, which runs parallel to the turnpike, told the paper, We have always gotten a good share of local truck traffic on Route 30, but its become a lot worse. I dont think that many trucks are making that many local deliveries."

However, Jason Rigone, executive director of the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp., said increased development along Route 30 likely plays a bigger role in boosting truck traffic.

Runk told the paper that while some truckers may be avoiding the turnpike because of tolls, for others, the fuel and time to go up to I-80 just to avoid the tolls isn't worth it, and Route 30's many hills, long two-lane stretches and spots of congestion and traffic signals would likely deter others.