The cost of driving in Pennsylvania is going up on two fronts in the new year.
On Sunday, the state tax on wholesale motor fuels - the highest in the nation - will go up 8 cents for gasoline and nearly 11 cents for diesel fuel. Those costs are likely to be passed on at the pump.
A week later, tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike will increase for the ninth year in a row, this time by 6 percent. The cost of a trip from Ohio to New Jersey will jump from $48.90 to $51.85 for cash, and from $34.93 to $37 for E-ZPass users.
After years of the capping the tax on the wholesale price of gasoline at $1.25 a gallon, the legislature approved a complicated formula to increase the cap gradually and adjust the tax as part of the Act 89 transportation funding bill in 2013. This year's hike is expected to generate $299 million for the state Department of Transportation, $267 million for state highways, and $32 million for local roads.
"It's a significant increase," said Bob Astor, commercial fuels representative for Shipley Energy, a statewide fuel supplier based in York. "It's not a horrible hit when the gas is about $2.50 a gallon, but it's a challenge for working people any time there is an increase."
Kevin Stewart, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Motor Trucking Association, said the agency recognized that PennDot needed more money to repair roads and bridges through Act 89.
But "I don't know that anyone could have anticipated the increase would be so large," he said.
The turnpike toll hike stems in part from major construction to rebuild some sections that have had few improvements since the road opened in the 1950s. In addition, the agency has to pay $450 million a year to PennDot for public transportation.
Stewart said the toll increase is causing the kind of reaction that state Auditor General Eugene Depasquale warned of in an audit of the turnpike in September: Drivers are avoiding the road when possible.
DePasquale said the agency's financial model of continually rising tolls may not be sustainable - a refrain turnpike officials have used in their effort to persuade the legislature to find another source for the yearly PennDot payment.