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The long, long RV trip, Week 15: Why to avoid the Pennsylvania Turnpike; Back to Chicago

When last we left off, I had decided to scrap plans to go to New England and start heading west from Atlantic City.

I know I should have routed around it, and I almost always do routes around toll roads.  However, the Pennsylvania Turnpike is the U.S. Interstate, and avoiding it was not at all convenient for a few stops I needed to make. So I ended up on this horrible road.

Pennsylvania turnpike frustrations

BIG MISTAKE and NEVER again!

In fact, the Pennsylvania Turnpike experience made me feel that if the state of Pennsylvania disrespects visitors this much, I don’t EVER need to go there again.

When I expressed a similar sentiment in a couple of RV groups I am in, almost EVERYONE was in agreement.

What goes on with Pennsylvania toll roads should not be legal.

What’s the problem?

There are many, starting with the fact that they are the most expensive toll roads in the world. Not the country, the WORLD! 

Again, I am not talking about a private little tollway of convenience, this is the United States Interstate. Personally, I don’t think there should be tolls on the interstates, but it seems a common practice in the East.

Ohio does it too. But at least in Ohio, as a tourist, you can pay your tolls as you go. Not so in Pennsylvania.

In Pennsylvania, you need a transponder. Having one saves you 60 percent on tolls. That’s right—If you don’t have one, the world’s most expensive toll road will charge you a whopping 60 percent more.

They sell transponders at the rest areas on the turnpike, which might be okay except that:

  • The ones they sell are ONLY good for passenger cars, not RVs or vehicles towing anything.
  • It takes a minimum of 24 hours for the transponder to work, so if you are driving through, too bad. And if you are already on the turnpike, too late.
  • There is a monthly charge that comes with the transponder, regardless of whether or not you use it in subsequent months. Again, if you are a tourist, you are out of luck.

I have yet to get the bill in the mail from the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but I am guessing it will be in the $100 or more range for my truck and travel trailer. My nephew, who did the trip to Atlantic City in just a van earlier this year, was in shock when his bill came in the mail.

You might think that such an expensive piece of highway would be perfectly maintained.  But you would be wrong.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike is a mess of so many potholes, screws were shaking loose in my RV at every stop. One time the bathroom door fell off, hinges and all.

I was starting to dread opening the RV door at each stop. This was a new adventure I had not experienced.  At least not regularly and at this volume.

The Pennsylvania turnpike is NOT tourist friendly

That is the bottom line. If you are just visiting Pennsylvania for a short time, there is no way to pay the tolls on the spot. And likewise, no way to avoid getting overcharged. Unless you avoid the toll roads altogether, which I would do in the future. But personally, I think I will just avoid Pennsylvania altogether. I have been there, done that in the past, and there are so many other states that act more welcoming to tourists.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike was downright hostile.

Ohio turnpike—somewhat better, but beware

rv parking with hookups on the Ohio Turnpike

The Ohio Turnpike, also an interstate, is pricey but not as bad as neighboring Pennsylvania. But most importantly, you DO at least have the option of paying the tolls as you go.

This seems like the LEAST a state should do if they are charging travelers to use the public roads. But apparently, the Keystone State does not agree.

The other thing I liked about the Ohio Turnpike is the RV parking with hookups at many of the rest stops. You put $20 in the slot and go park and plug in. It’s that easy.

I used the Ohio Turnpike RV parking on the trip out and did this time too. However, I learned an expensive lesson this time.

Maybe this is in the fine print of the rules if you go into the rest area. I did not do that.  Make sure that you do not spend more than 24 consecutive hours on the turnpike or you will get hit with a penalty. I believe it was $30.

I started on the turnpike in the morning and was not feeling well. I stopped at the rest area and decided to take advantage of the $20 RV parking. I planned to take some migraine medicine, take a nap, get some computer work done if I felt better later, and take off the next morning. According to the signs, the parking was good for 24 hours.

I got up the next day, had breakfast at one of the rest-stop restaurants, and continued driving the turnpike. By the time I got off, I had been on the road for more than 24 hours. Not allowed. Extra charge. Yeesh.

I was happy to leave the toll roads behind and fought my way through Chicago traffic, back to my friend Craig’s house in the Chicago suburbs.

Chicago moochdocking, round II

I promised Craig I would not be moochdocking for a month this time. He said it was no problem if I did. For those who don’t have a Chicagoland friend to moochdock with, I covered other options in Part I of my Chicago stay.

I stayed a week. During that time Craig made sure the screws and hinges in my trailer were going to hold and did an oil change for me. What a guy!

We checked out two more iconic Chicago eateries, but neither held up to my favorites that I talked about in my original Chicago food article.

I was underwhelmed with Giordanos pizza. The Chicago-style pizza dough was not nearly as flavorful as Lou Malnatti’s and was undercooked and doughy in the middle.

Knowing what a fan I was of Johnnie’s Italian Beef, Craig said I had to try the other favorite Chicago Italian Beef Place, Al’s A-1 Italian Beef.

It did not hold a candle to Johnnie’s. Not only was Al’s significantly more expensive, but it also was not nearly as good. The sandwich and bread were greasy. Yuck. To top it all off, the woman behind the counter was rude. According to Craig, she always is.

Johnnie’s Italian Beef is still my favorite iconic Chicago eatery.

Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park, Illinois

Frank Lloyd Wright library in Oak Park, IL

My second stay in Chicago gave me time to explore something I forgot about in Chicago, and that is all the amazing Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and history, especially in Oak Park.

Craig and I did a self-guided driving tour of Wright homes one evening. There are also walking tours in various areas.

I went back the next day to tour Wright’s original home and studio.

Wright designed and built the house while in his 20s. It is fascinating to see the Prairie style starting to emerge there along with so many of his hallmarks like the efficiency of space, built-in furniture, and incorporating nature and Japanese design elements into his buildings.

skylight in the Frank Lloyd Wright house, Oak Park, IL

Some of his earliest homes are in the neighborhood within easy walking distance of his home and studio.

Our tour guide was both knowledgeable and enthusiastic and truly left me with a greater understanding of Wright’s work. His work, but not of the man himself. The tours here don’t seem to like talking about that, even though the group had posed a number of questions.

Outside pillars at the Frank Lloyd Wright house

The next leg of the long, long RV trip

I kept my promise and headed out the next week. My plan was to spend some time out in nature—hiking and eating right. I had been on “vacation” for too long and was putting on weight. Especially with all the classic Chicago foods, which are delicious but hardly healthy.

But I knew my “RVer’s diet” would soon have me back on the right track.

That involves two components:

  • Staying for a while in places that have easy hiking right out the door so that no matter how much work I have, there is no excuse to not get off my butt a couple of times a day and go for a walk or hike.
  • ONLY stocking my RV with foods I should have. So for me, no bread, no sugar, no starch. Lots of veggies, meats, and some fruits.

If I am camped out in the middle of nowhere, I am not going to unhitch and go into town just because I have an ice cream craving.

It works for me.

NEXT WEEK: Camping on the Mississippi River in Wisconsin

Previously in Cheri’s long, long RV trip:

##RVT1070

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Glenn Miller
7 days ago

Add to this article about the overpriced fuel stations on the turnpike. I have found I-80 to be a much more pleasant Drive with much better scenery and more room to pull off if needed. I-80 also goes through the Poconos! Farther west I have found much nicer driving on non toll roads, the toll roads were terrible esp. in Indiana if I remember correctly.
Also isn’t the PA Turnpike owned by a Chinese front company?

Ron
9 days ago

My mother told me that while on a trip in 1940, my grandfather drove out of the way to see the construction on the new turnpike they were building in Pennsylvania. It was going to be the first super highway. I remember when the Ohio Turnpike was built in the early 50’s. A bridge was built over the road close to where my grandmother lived. We may not like paying the tolls, but these roads were built before Congress approved the Interstate Highway System. The interstates were routed on these existing highways.

Mike
9 days ago

And, worse, most of that money we pay in PA turnpike tolls doesn’t go to fixing the road, it goes to the state police so they can buy more military hardware.

Greg
9 days ago

I refuse to use the Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania toll roads if at all possible. Tolls are a double tax, as you already pay a road tax at the pump. Last spring I did use the Illinois toll system to travel from Michigan to Aurora Illinois and back. It was just shy of $40 , for about 50 miles of toll road each way. I used to drive that road frequently and it was $3, in quarters. I like the line out of the movie DOC HOLLYWOOD. “Get off the interstate Doctor Stone.”

Rick
9 days ago

I am a PA resident and all I have to say is it isn’t friendly to residents either. You are spot on correct with everything you said and I have been working hard the past several years on leaving this dumpster fire of a state behind me for good.

Marion C
10 days ago

I live in PA and I avoid the PA Turnpike whenever I can. The tolls have risen dramatically recently (last 10 years+) and even with EZ Pass, they are exorbitant – somewhere in the range of 20 cents/mile or more. So I find safe back roads when I can. While it takes longer, I save SO much money that I get paid for my time, in my opinion. My state makes traveling here so expensive due to gas taxes and tolls that I do not blame this writer for her feelings. I feel the same way. Our state is messed up.

Steven Horne
11 days ago

You are complaining about the Pennsylvania turnpike. Yet your lead photo is of the Ohio turnpike. What gives?

Nedra
11 days ago

2 months before traveling the PA Turnpike, I researched the Turnpike Commission’s & EZ Pass website. The website has a toll calculator. The calculator for towing uses trailer & truck weight. I called PA EZ Pass phone number for clarification. The total number of tires combined also applied for our situation. We are Ohio residents towing a large fifth-wheel camper. It was in our best interest to apply for the commercial EZ Pass via their online web application. We needed a transponder due to the fact that Ohio does not require a front license plate. Our rear truck plate is not visable under the fifth-wheel and the camper plate is on the rear. We had a significant savings, more than half, with the transponder. We have since used the transponder in Ohio & West Virginia. So much easier & cheaper. No waiting in line at toll booths. PA roads not the best, but not as bad as others.

ScrappyCoco
11 days ago

I’d like to know more about this monthly fee. I pay a 3$ annual fee and its convenient for my travels through MD, PA, DE, and NJ. Yes the tolls aren’t cheap but sometimes the convenience is worth it. Pre-covid, I didn’t have to worry about waiting in lines and I saved 30% on tolls.

Last edited 11 days ago by ScrappyCoco
Steve Sims
11 days ago

In addition to the highest tolls in the world on the PA turnpike, Pennsylvania also has the highest fuel taxes in the nation.
I don’t know what the PA government is doing with all the tolls and fuel taxes, but putting the money into road maintenance sure ain’t it.

Rick
9 days ago
Reply to  Steve Sims

They use it to illegally fund the state police in direct violation of the state constitution. The gas tax is suppose to be used for road and bridge maintenance only but most of it goes to the state police because large townships, such as the one Pittsburgh is in, found out if they don’t have their own police force they get to use the state police and not pay a dime for it.

Bill Forbes
12 days ago

I think there will be many more toll roads in our future since EVs don’t pay gas tax, and no one has figured out how else to charge them an equitable share of road maintenance and construction costs. The EZ Pass system is now good pretty much everywhere east of the Mississippi, and it is capable of registering passing cars without even slowing down. The biggest problem is politicians diverting money into other pots and not properly funding maintenance – which we pay for through angst and early repair of suspensions and tires and closet doors.

Ed
12 days ago

For openers yes there are some potholes but they have replaced much of the road during the last few years.The speed limit is 75 and most people do over 80 and most state troopers will not ticket you unless your doing 85. I have never had a ticket in all of my stops regardless of the speed. Maybe you need a new RV? If you just take a moment to plan your trip, you will know what you need to do ahead of time.

Danangeme
12 days ago

Forget the transponder they take a pic of your license and send you a bill.
Don’t pay the bill like most who use the turnpike. Last figure I read was 1.5 million in unpaid tolls.
Our turnpike goes back to the days of patronage jobs except now it’s top heavy with former official and campaign contributors .
BTW they just reported the debt of the turnpike is larger than the debt of the state of Pennsylvania.

Bob M
12 days ago

I told you so last week about Pa’s Turnpike. We know for our expensive turnpikes, high gas and diesel tax, crooked politicians. Many of who end in jail. Our democratic governor and PennDot wanted to toll four bridges on the interstate in republican districts

Jesse Crouse
12 days ago

We live SWest of Philly and the turnpike is actually better than most local roads and state highways. Anything the state govt. has a hand in is screwed up.

Uncle Swags
12 days ago

We have had EZPass on the East Coast for a number of years and it never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t and would wait in the long cash only lines because they either didn’t have a credit card or didn’t want the government tracking them (!). My transponder works both on my passenger car and my RV (MB Sprinter) so I just leave a note in one vehicle that says “Don’t Forget the EZ Pass”. I travel I80 and I81 in Penn regularly but the turnpike not so much as it isn’t as convenient for me, but they do have RV dump stations for $5. Also just did the rest area stop in Ohio and the electric was out at the RV lot (Indian Meadow). A worker the next morning said there was an electrical storm the previous night. Wonder what the EV owners did? Guess they learned how to boondock in a Tesla! Lastly Cheri, why in the world would you even turn on your computer if you are experiencing a migraine? Ohio charges you extra for staying as long as you did because they don’t want mobile squatters.

john147
12 days ago

yeah it’s a pain, I only use I80 to cross PA, free and really beautiful country. Good nuff rest areas, but both PennDot and PA Turnpike Authority really need more education on keeping the roads up to par with up to date rehab materials.

Jpatrickc
12 days ago

The Pennsylvania Turnpike is owned by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission not the state of Pennsylvania. It’s a private road. Don’t blame Pennsylvania just avoid the turnpike. I live in PA and haven’t been on the turnpike in over 30 years.

Last edited 12 days ago by Jpatrickc
Cheri Sicard
12 days ago
Reply to  Jpatrickc

I absolutely DO blame PA 100%. It is the US Interstate, that should NEVER have happened. THe US Interstate has NO BUSINESS being a private road. How ridiculous.

Last edited 12 days ago by Cheri Sicard
Jesse Crouse
12 days ago
Reply to  Jpatrickc

There were recent attempts by the state legislature to sell off the turnpike to private operators. They even want to sell off the state lottery system to get a BIG cash payout because they can’t handle the state tax revenues in a proper manner. The inside joke in Pa. is Pennsultucky. Not Pennsylvania

Bob M
12 days ago
Reply to  Jpatrickc

Your incorrect with your statement. The Pa turnpike is so expensive thanks to our Legislators. The made the Pa Turnpike commission turn over millions of dollars to PennDot yearly to maintain and waste money on our roads. The Turnpike commission is in debt for years to come. They no longer have to give PennDot money every year, but have to payback the loans.

friz
12 days ago

September 2019 heading home to Florida from Michigan. Picked up the Ohio Turnpike outside of Toledo. Road in good condition and tolls okay. Started the PA turnpike. We drove to the 1st exit to head south. I am not sure if the 1st exit was 18 miles and we were charged $23 of it was 23 miles and $18. At any rate outrageous. The road was also a construction zone most of the way. PA should have paid us to use their sub-standard road. Anyhow it was the worst toll rip off I have ever experienced. PA has seen us for the last time. I was and am disgusted.

Rosy
12 days ago

We just pulled our 40 ft fifth wheel to Gettysburg from the south side of Chicago. Indiana roads were the worst. Ohio roads not much better. On I-70 in Pennsylvania there was so much traffic and construction we hated it. We chose the Pennsylvania Turnpike on our way back west and while a pricey drive, it was worth every penny!

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