Tale of the Tolls: The Real Story Behind America’s Toll Roads-Info Video


Video Info-motion graphic by CJ Pony Parts

For many drivers, the freedom of a road trip is tempered somewhat by the ubiquity of toll roads. Jockeying with other drivers to get through the tollbooths can be stressful, not to mention juggling coins and bills to pay the fares.

Paying a toll on a round-trip journey can be a tough pill for many of us to swallow, considering we already pay taxes that go toward the maintenance of public infrastructure.

Why Should I Pay Tolls?

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some data that will help to understand this all-too-necessary transaction between the government and American drivers, and clear up some of the confusion or misconceptions.

To begin with, turnpikes are all too easily thought of as a sort of monolithic, faceless entity. In truth, there’s a human element that’s easily overlooked.

The first major turnpike – the Pennsylvania and Lancaster turnpike – was chartered in 1792. By 1800, 69 turnpike companies had been chartered, of which 23 were located in Connecticut.

Most Profitable Toll Roads Are Pennsylvania Turnpike and NJ Turnpike Authority.

Today, the most profitable roads in America are the NJ Turnpike Authority and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which bring in $992 million and $781 million in tolls, respectively.

Let’s put that in perspective. The city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital, has a local public debt of about $600 million. The PA Turnpike is so profitable that it could bail out the city all by itself.

Where Does My Toll Money Go?

Understanding where the money goes could help to alleviate some of the frustration that modern drivers may feel where toll roads are concerned. Let’s use the PA Turnpike as an example.

40% of all collected tolls are put toward general operating and maintenance expenses for the road. The remaining 60% is used to fund road projects as well as to pay down the state’s debt.

E-ZPass Members Can Usually Bypass Busy Tollbooths!

history of the toll booth

Toll booth from years past.

Here’s a concrete, real-world example that will help to put things in perspective.

If you were to drive from New York City to Disney World in Orlando, you would spend $140 on gas and $28.25 in tolls.

As the drive is about 1089 miles, the cost per mile for the tolls works out to about $.025 per mile. That’s not a bad deal.

What Do Truck Drivers Think Of Tolls?

Truckers hate tolls, when a big rig approaches the tollbooths, cars and small vehicles are zipping all around you trying to get to a toll lane that has the fewest vehicles in it.

Almost daily I approach a toll lane and cars zip ahead of me inches before I enter the toll lane, those dipsticks!

The least annoying tolls are the open air tolls, that have no lanes, and you keep going highway speed, using Ez-pass.

The cost of tolls for a commercial vehicle is much more than cars. I purchase about 67 gallons of diesel fuel a day, and an average of $.50 a gallon is paid for local, state and federal taxes.

Some states like California collect a whopping 74.9 cent a gallon, that’s more than $40. a day for taxes.

So paying an additional $40. plus a day in tolls is very pricey. I am a company driver, so the Ez-pass and tolls are paid by the carrier but for owner operators it comes out of their pocket.

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