Pennsylvania House approves bridge commission reforms

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/11/2018

One bill halfway through 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, 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 has voted unanimously to advance a three-part bill to implement greater state oversight of the commission. HB652 now moves to the Senate.

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

Currently, the commission is audited every other year.

Another provision in HB652 would require the minutes of every commission meeting to be delivered to the governor. The commission would be forbidden from taking action until the minutes are approved by the governor, or for a period of days.

A third provision 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.”

“Seven years ago, the commission instituted a questionable fare increase without giving commuters or businesses a voice in the toll hike,” Emrick said in prepared remarks.

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.

“Taxpayers deserve better, including a thorough and more frequent audit of the commission’s books so they have a better handle on how their money is being spent,” Emrick said.

The bill has moved to the Senate Transportation Committee.

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

 

 

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