Editorial: Get feedback on toll increase

photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration

Lawrence Journal-World Editorial

The Kansas Turnpike Authority’s announcement last week that it was increasing tolls as much as 12.5 percent to fund modernization efforts will have a dramatic impact on commuters living in the Lawrence area.

“KTA continues to be fiscally strong,” Kent Olson, KTA’s director of finance, said in announcing the increase. “However, a modest toll adjustment is necessary to pay for preservation and modernization projects using cash on hand rather than issuing new debt. With this adjustment, KTA will increase the discount for its more efficient electronic toll collection program.”

Modest is an interesting way to describe the second-largest increase for passenger vehicles in KTA history. The Wichita Eagle reported that only a 15 percent hike in 2009 was higher, though there also was a 12 percent increase in 1961.

Those who pay cash at the Turnpike gate, which accounts for 40 percent of all Turnpike traffic, will see increases of about 12.5 percent when the new tolls take effect Oct. 1. People driving passenger cars with a K-TAG or similar device will see an increase of roughly 5 percent.

The toll increases could have a significant impact on thousands of Lawrence residents who commute daily to jobs in the Kansas City metro area to the east and in Topeka to the west. The cost of a trip from the Lawrence-Lecompton exit at Kansas Highway 10 to the eastern terminal near Kansas City will go up 40 cents, to $2.50, for cash customers. Those with a K-TAG will see a 10-cent increase, to $2.10. A trip from the Lawrence-Lecompton exit to east Topeka will go up 25 cents for all passenger vehicles, to $1.05 for K-TAG customers and $1.25 for cash customers.

KTA, which announced the increase as part of its $145.5 million budget for 2019, said the additional revenue will help pay for projects identified in its recent long-term needs study. Those projects include the removal of gates in more K-TAG lanes, construction of highway speed toll lanes in east Topeka and near the Oklahoma border and increased compatibility with toll roads in other states.

Steve Hewitt, KTA’s CEO, defended the increase, saying the Turnpike’s per-mile toll is one of the lowest in the country. He encouraged commuters to maximize their savings by getting a K-TAG transponder to pay for tolls.

It should be noted that KTA receives no tax funding for the 236-mile turnpike, which stretches from the Kansas City suburbs to Topeka to the west and Wichita to the south. The turnpike instead is solely dependent on user fees in the form of tolls.

The KTA is overseen by a five-person board: David Lindstrom, of Kansas City, appointed by former Gov. Sam Brownback; state Sen. Mike Petersen, of Wichita; state Rep. Richard Proehl, of Parsons; state Sen. Ty Masterson, of Butler County; and Richard Carlson, the state’s secretary of transportation and the director of the Turnpike.

The KTA has done a good job of maintaining and improving the Turnpike in recent years. But such a significant increase in tolls warrants feedback. Residents affected by the toll increase should make their feelings known to KTA board members.

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