Christie: We must be realistic about toll increase

SOMERSET – Gov. Chris Christie said today that while he is certainly not happy about any toll hike by the Port Authority, he and the residents of New Jersey have to “face the realities we are left with.”

He demanded the finances at the Port Authority be closely overseen in the wake of the toll increase approved today.

“We are demanding a top-to-down audit of the capital program…and a top-to-down audit of management,” he said during a bill signing and press conference here.

He described the scaled-down toll hike approved by PANY-NJ as “modest” that will give commuters more time to adjust to the hikes.

“What we tried to do is dig in what cost savings could be (realized).”

He said he and N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo already identified $5 billion in cost savings in the capital program.

The scaled-back hike, in addition to the immediate $1.50 toll hike, calls for four annual 75-cent hikes

People will be held accountable, he said.

“We are going to be very vigilant stewards,” he said. “We are really disturbed with what is going on at the port authority.”

He criticized management at PANY-NJ, such as $2 billion in cost overruns he said were hidden by professionals regarding the World Trade Center rebuilding project, and significant overtime.

“There are things that are not acceptable,” he said.

He added that much of the problem stemmed from prior administrations not closely keeping track.

“If other governors were not keeping their eyes on the store, I’m not going to take responsibility,” Christie said, adding he felt like he was stuck with a check after a fancy dinner.

Regarding the tolls, Christie said they have  to be balanced with the realities of rebuilding the World Trade Center.

“We want to see the (WTC) rebuilt. We don’t want to see money wasted.”

He added that the funds will also go toward raising the Bayonne Bridge, which will cost $1 billion, as well as replacing more than 500 suspension cables on the George Washington Bridge.

He stressed the toll hike is “a user fee” and not a tax, affecting the tunnel, bridge and PATH train users.

He said the Democrats will criticize him and call it a tax because they are so used to raising them. Having not seen much of them since he became governor, he said, might be “disorienting” for them.

“They are looking for one somewhere,” he said.

He described his critics this way:

“The way you describe these people are know-nothings and do-nothings.”  Christie: We must be realistic about toll increase