It’s Not the Volume, It’s the Trucks: Sentinel News

August 7th, 2007: The Sentinel

It’s Not the Volume, It’s the Trucks

(This article could not be found in the Sentinel Archives, so we are re-posting the article in its entirety here.)

By Naomi Creason

The large number of trucks going in and out of Carlisle, whether stopping for the night or heading to Interstate 81, has made Carlisle the third highest grossing interchange on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Though the interchange at Carlisle does not see as large a volume of vehicles as other areas on the turnpike – not even making it to the top 10 of the highest volume list, Carlisle drew in almost $41.4 million at its toll between June 2006 and March 31, 2007. Carlisle is only behind interchanges at New Stanton in Westmoreland County and Warrendale in Allegheny County, both bringing in about $47 million each.

The difference between the low number of vehicles passing through and the high amount of toll revenue can be attributed to the trucks passing through the interchange, according to Carl DeFebo, manager of media relations at the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

“About 39 percent of vehicles from the Carlisle interchange are trucks,” DeFebo said. “Looking at all of the interchanges, it’s the highest percentage of trucks than any other interchange on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. On average, 13 percent of all vehicles are trucks in the statewide system.”

That unusually high percentage is largely due to Carlisle’s proximity to other major roadways, such as routes 15 and 94 and especially Interstate 81.

“I think most of it is because of trucks picking up Interstate 81, along with heading to Carlisle,” DeFebo said. “The turnpike is a major east-west corridor, and you have it coming together with Interstate 81, a major north-south corridor. One of our other stops with a high revenue is Breezewood, which links with Interstate 70.”

Because trucks are in a different vehicle class than regular passenger cars, truck drivers are paying more at the toll booth than a passenger car.

For instance, if a passenger car at class one were to get on at the Harrisburg-East interchange and get off at Carlisle, the driver would pay $1.25. Most trucks, however, are class five through seven, so the driver would be paying anywhere from $3.50 to $6.50, depending on the number of axles and the weight.

Some overweight trucks can be costing the driver up to $51, according to DeFebo.

Because trucks are paying at least twice as much as the regular driver, the highest volume interchange handles almost 80,000 vehicles a day, but only takes in $30.6 million. Carlisle normally handles around 17,000 vehicles a day and receives $10 million more in revenue.

The revenue from the tolls goes back into the turnpike system.

“The money doesn’t go outside of the turnpike,” DeFebo said. “It goes to the operation and maintenance of the turnpike. The turnpike commission operates 537 miles of highway. The money is also used for capital improvements, like construction or building new highways. It’s interesting because the toll acts as a user’s fee, which is then reinvested on the road.”

Wins and woes of traffic

The turnpike commission is not the only one benefitting from the large number of trucks making their way through Carlisle. The trucking industry has grown considerably in Carlisle and in Cumberland County, accounting for many of the jobs in the mid-state.

“A lot of trucks are passing through, and as a result, a lot of shipping industries have sprung up in the area,” DeFebo said. “There are major trucking industries and transfer yards in Carlisle.”

Trucking, transportation and warehousing accounts for almost 12,000 jobs in Cumberland County, according to the Pennsylvania Career Link’s June 2007 county profile. The number of employees makes the industry the third largest employer, only a few thousand behind retail and health care.

However, not everyone is pleased that the number of trucks in Carlisle is so high in comparison to other turnpike interchanges.

Trucks, more so than cars, release particulate matter (PM2.5), which can cause serious health effects, especially to those who already suffer from asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, according to pulmonologist and Clean Air Board member Phillip Carey.

PM2.5 is so high in the Carlisle region that the American Lung Association has ranked Carlisle 14th of the 25 most polluted cities in America with the form of particulate matter. Cumberland County ranks 17 of the 25 counties considered to be polluted by PM2.5. Cumberland County notably failed the association’s air standards on particulate matter.

Truck rest stations across the United States, including Petro Stopping Center on the Harrisburg Pike, have been trying to lessen that pollution by implementing the IdleAire system, which would give truck drivers heat and electricity without idling the truck. The system is deemed especially necessary by some since Pennsylvania has no state regulation on idling cars or trucks.

Highest volume ahead

While the quality of air may be getting some much-needed attention, traffic on the “Miracle Mile” may only get worse as August progresses.

“Overall, the peak month of traffic is in August,” DeFebo said. “In August 2006, about 19,000 cars and trucks a day were getting on and off at Carlisle. We had about 2,000 more people using that interchange in August.”

Most of the jump in numbers is due to vacationers, but the percentage of trucks on the road will also increase to 42 percent of all vehicles during the month.

Regardless of traffic that will eventually clear up and air quality that will hopefully clear up, the number of trucks passing through Carlisle will continue to grow as more drivers take the quickest route to their destinations.

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