Pennsylvania House panel OKs bridge commission reforms

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/3/2018

A piece of legislation at the Pennsylvania statehouse is intended to clear up inconsistencies in laws governing operation of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.

The agency maintains and operates seven toll bridges and 13 free bridges connecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The DRJTBC is made up of 10 commissioners with five from each state.

Making changes to how the commission is run is a complex process. Because the agency is set up by a federal charter, identical legislation must be enacted in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and approved by the federal government.

The Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee voted unanimously to advance a three-part bill to implement greater state oversight of the commission.

HB652 would grant the Pennsylvania governor veto power over actions of the state’s commissioners.

New Jersey already has the rules in place.

Rep. Joe Emrick, R-Nazareth, has said that, “while this is not a statewide issue, it is an interstate issue, as New Jersey has already agreed to this and is waiting on us to fulfill our half of the agreement.”

“Historically, the commission has been a bastion of political patronage, and many of its financial and management decisions have been questionable at best,” Emrick previously wrote in communication to House lawmakers.

A separate provision in the bill would give the governor 10 days to invoke veto power over any actions by an individual commissioner.

“The governor of Pennsylvania should also have the authority to review and veto actions of Pennsylvania commissioners that do not serve the best interests of Pennsylvania residents, such as the toll hike,” he said.

Emrick has said the gubernatorial authority in Pennsylvania could have derailed the rate hike that charged large trucks 75 cents more per axle – to $4 from $3.25 per axle. Tolls for two-axle passenger vehicles increased 25 cents – to $1 from 75 cents.

Certain discounts are available.

At the time, agency officials said the rate hikes were necessary to keep up with capital improvements. An agency news release noted that higher truck fees reflected the “greater wear and tear trucks cause” on roads and bridges.

One more provision in the bill would require an annual financial and management audit of the commission by the Pennsylvania’s auditor general and his New Jersey counterpart.

The bill awaits further consideration in the House Rules Committee. The next step would be the House floor for a chamber vote before it could advance to the Senate.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Pennsylvania, click here.



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