It’s not news that the Pennsylvania Turnpike will increase tolls in January because the agency has raised rates each of the past 16 years.

But the 5% increase approved by the turnpike commission Tuesday also includes a change in how tolls are calculated, and some motorists will see a reduction in their fees.

The agency will begin using only open road tolling in Eastern Pennsylvania in January and in the rest of the state in January 2027 rather than the traditional toll booths. Overhead gantries will either read the vehicle’s E-ZPass transponder and bill them or take a photo of the license plate and send a bill in the mail.

As a result, instead of paying a flat fee based on where motorists enter and leave the turnpike, the toll will be calculated based on the mileage they have driven.

Additionally, the way those rates are determined for commercial customers will change next year. Pennsylvania has been the only state to charge tolls based on the weight of a vehicle, but that will change in January, and fees will be based on the length and height of a vehicle.

CEO Mark Compton said in an interview that the turnpike’s financial staff has been reviewing formulas and making mock calculations for years in anticipation of the change to open road tolling. The goal was to develop a system that is more fair and easier to understand.

They settled on a system that will have drivers of passenger cars who use E-ZPass pay 7 cents per mile plus $1.09 for each gantry (or each toll plaza in Western Pennsylvania until 2027) they pass. Those who use the Toll-By-Plate system will pay double that rate, 14 cents a mile plus $2.18 for each gantry or toll plaza they pass, to cover the cost of processing their bill.

Commercial trucks will pay a multiple of the basic passenger car rate based on their height and weight, a system known as Automatic Vehicle Classification used in all other states.

“If I showed you the heat map of the various calculations, it would spin your head, and I know because it spun my head,” Compton said. “I believe we have come up with the most fair calculations we could have.”

Compton stressed that although the rates will be calculated differently, the net increase in revenue for the agency should be 5%. That increase is prescribed under state law so the agency can pay back billions of dollars it borrowed to make 15 years of $400 million a year payments to the state Department of Transportation to support public transit.

The agency’s toll increases will drop to 3% by 2028, but it expects to have 3% increases until 2050 to pay off more than $15 billion in debt.

In the first year of the new calculations, about 50% of passenger car drivers will pay a lower toll. About 84% of E-ZPass users and 74% of Toll-By-Plate customers will pay increases of less than $1 based on historical data of the most common trips.

For example, the cost of car trips in the Pittsburgh area between Allegheny Valley and Monroeville and between Monroeville and Irwin will decrease, 18 cents for each trip with E-ZPass, and for Toll-By-Plate $1.26 less from Allegheny Valley and $1.12 less from Monroeville.

A cross-state car trip from Cranberry to the New Jersey border at Neshaminy Falls for drivers with E-ZPass will increase from $47.30 to $52.39, $104.78 for Toll-By-Plate.

For commercial vehicles, the turnpike said about 70% will see increases of $5 or less under the new calculations. Instead of nine commercial classifications, the new system will use 11 based on the uniform Automatic Vehicle Classification of the height and length of the vehicle.

“It’s a lot easier for our commercial customers to figure out what they will pay because it will be the same system used in every other state,” Compton said. “An empty truck now will pay the same as a truck carrying a load of bricks.”

That also means that empty trucks will pay more under the new system, Compton said, but he doesn’t expect any blowback from the industry because truckers already pay a uniform rate on every other toll system based on the size of their vehicle, full or empty.

Rebecca Oyler, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, said the group generally supports open road tolling because it improves safety and keep traffic flowing. The organization will take a “wait and see” approach on whether the new rate system is fair to commercial haulers, especially empty vehicles.

“We think they have done a pretty good job” of keeping rates comparable under the new system, Oyler said. “We’re concerned about the empty trucks. We hope it balances out that the rates are lower on loaded trucks to make up for the higher cost of empty trucks. We’ll see what happens.”

Kelli Roberts, the turnpike’s chief strategy and communications officer, said customers will notice a change on their E-ZPass account when they review it online next year. Currently, the account shows which plaza they used to enter and exit the turnpike, but next year it will show the gantries they passed under in the eastern part of the state and the charge for each segment they travel.

The turnpike switched to all-electronic tolling in June 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce interaction between toll collectors and drivers. Since toll booths are no longer needed, the agency is installing overhead gantries to gather information as they pass under them and will eliminate the booths entirely so that drivers can maintain speed on offramps similar to other interstate highways.

The turnpike has finished installing 10 gantries from Reading east to New Jersey and nine on the Northeast Extension. They are being tested to make sure they are ready to operate in January.

The agency approved contracts last month to begin two years of construction for 11 gantries from Fort Littleton in Fulton County to the Ohio border. They are expected to go into operation in January 2027.

Motorists traveling on the eastern part of the Pennsylvania Turnpike mainline and Northeastern Extension will see “open road tolling” equipment buildings and overhead steel structures called gantries open in January. Construction on gantries on the western end of the turnpike should begin early next year. (Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Turnpike)
Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at