Port Authority approves reduced toll hike

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey approved a scaled-back toll hike for Hudson River crossings, as was recommended last night by both states’ governors.

Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a joint letter yesterday recommending a $1.50 initial hike on bridges and tunnels, and another $3 increase over four years. The board approved the recommendation unanimously today.

In order to make the reduced hike work, the Port Authority pinpointed $5 billion savings in their capitol plan. Christie and Cuomo said in their letter to the Port Authority board, “This is a responsible alternative that balances the infrastructure needs of the region with toll and fare payers’ economic realities.”

According to the plan, EZ-Pass tolls will increase by $1.50 in September 2011 and then an additional 75 cents in December of each year from 2012 to 2015. Cash-paying drivers will have the same increase but pay $2 more (rounded up to the nearest whole dollar).

Trucks with EZ-Pass will pay an additional $2 per axle in September 2011, and an additional $2 per axle beginning each December from 2012 to 2015. Truckers paying cash will pay an extra $3 per axle on top of that.

Fares on the PATH train will increase by 25 cents per year for the next four years.

Board Chairman David Samson, who was appointed by Christie, said several factors led to the toll hike: bad economic climates, the $11 billion resurrection of the World Trade Center (and other infrastructure projects), and the heightened need for security investments in the region.

Some of the attempts to control costs at the Port Authority, Samson said, were successful, but not successful enough. The agency deferred $3.5 billion in capital improvement projects; held operating expenses at zero-growth; and reduced the number of employees to the lowest level in 40 years, he said, but, “More needs to be done.”

The agency will spend $21.5 billion over the next 10 years on major infrastructure projects, like the raising of the Bayonne Bridge to accommodate larger shipping vessels.

The governors are requiring the authority to conduct an audit of its 10-year capital plan and a “top to bottom management review of the authority’s finances and operations,” making reference to cost overruns, excessive overtime, and exorbitant spending detailed in a recent New York comptroller’s report.

New Jersey board member Ray Pocino, also the eastern regional manager for the Laborers International Union of North America, said – compared to the economic woes and partisan gridlock in Washington D.C. – “We don’t have a lack of leadership (in New York and New Jersey) – quite the contrary.”

“I have never been as impressed with any elected official as I am with Govs. Christie and Cuomo,” he said, who are balancing the need for economic development and the need to protect fare-payers. “It is now incumbent on us to execute, and reform this authority,” Pocino said.

Many union supporters attended the meeting in Manhattan today, with one organizer from the building trades telling the board, “You need to have progress if you’re going to have economic development.”


Port Authority approves reduced toll hike