Bayonne mayor weighs in on PANYNJ toll hike

Until now, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s plan to boost tolls and fares to travel to New York has been met with almost universal derision from politicians, who say the hikes will wallop taxpayers during tough financial times.

But Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith Monday came out in favor of the plan saying the region’s infrastructure is in dire need of upgrades and repairs.

“As Mayor of a Community at the heart and center of the Port of New York and New Jersey, I understand the importance of a modern, safe and secure transportation infrastructure and circle of mobility. As many of our roads, tunnels, subways and bridges approach their centennial year, it is critical that the Port Authority plan for and execute capital improvements that keep these vital systems safe and up to date,” said Smith, whose community will reap the benefits from a recently announced PANYNJ plan to raise the Bayonne Bridge.

 “I was shocked to hear that the suspender ropes on the George Washington Bridge have never been replaced in 80 years. And anyone who has approached the Lincoln tunnel during rush hour understands that an approach way designed in the 1920’s simply won’t work in the 2020’s. It is clear that major capital investments are long overdue. In these difficult economic times, the Port Authority’s major capital improvement plan would create tens of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and deliver hundreds of millions in wages and regional spending. This investment has to be welcome.”

Smith joins representatives of nearly a dozen organized labor groups in support of the plan that has already drawn fire from the state’s two U.S. senators and a host of state and local lawmakers.

On Saturday, published reports said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo were planning to veto the hike that would raise the cost of entering New York to $12 from $8 during peak hours and to $10 from $6 in non-peak hours. Those rates would apply only to EZ-Pass users. The toll would jump another $2 in 2014.  For cash payments, the toll would rise from $8 to $15 this year with an additional $2 tacked on in 2014.

Trucks using EZ-Pass would see a hike of $7 to $13 per axle off-peak and from $8 to $14 per axle during peak hours.  Those rates would also rise by $2 in 2014.

The fare to ride the PATH train would jump $1, from $1.75 to $2.75.

Christie promised to study the plan, but said taxpayers cannot always be forced to bear the burden.

“The Port Authority is facing financial issues but so are families in the states of New York and New Jersey, and the answer cannot always be an indiscriminate and exorbitant increase in the cost to the taxpayer, or in this case, toll payer. As families must carefully and effectively manage their finances at this difficult time, so must government,” Christie said in a joint statement with Cuomo.

Since the announcement Friday, several organized labor groups have come out strongly in favor of the plan, which would pay for the authority’s ambitious ten-year capital plan that would include the replacement of PATH trains, bridge repairs – including the raising of the Bayonne Bridge –  and other upgrades and improvements.

“On behalf of the 40,000 laborers I represent in the greater New York/New Jersey Metropolitan region, I strongly support the need for the Port Authority’s proposed toll and fare increases at its Trans-Hudson facilities,” said Ray Pocino,  Eastern Regional Manager for the Laborers International Union of North America and a member of the Port Authority board.  “The additional revenues are necessary for the Port Authority to carry out its extensive capital program. I applaud the Port Authority for taking the difficult, but necessary action to move forward critical projects like the raising of the Bayonne Bridge to accommodate future port commerce even when revenues are declining but our capital needs are growing.” Bayonne mayor weighs in on PANYNJ toll hike