Pennsylvania bill renews bridge commission reform effort

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/22/2019

A renewed effort in the Pennsylvania statehouse that is intended to clear up inconsistencies in laws governing operation of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission this week took its first step toward passage.

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 House Transportation Committee voted this week to advance a three-part bill to implement greater state oversight of the commission.

House lawmakers acted last fall to unanimously adopt the changes. The bill, however, died without getting consideration in the Senate.

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

Another provision in HB351 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 for a period of 10 days or are approved by the governor.

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, says there is a genuine need for greater state oversight of the agency.

“Historically, the Commission has been a bastion of political patronage, and many of its financial and management decisions have been questionable at best,” Emrick wrote in a memo on his bill.

Emrick has referred to a fare increase from eight years ago that did not give commuters or businesses an opportunity to voice concerns about the toll increase.

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 has stated.

The bill awaits further consideration in the House.

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



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