Pennsylvania lawmakers call for toll bridge commission reform

| 7/7/2003

Pennsylvania state lawmakers in districts along the Delaware River have proposed legislation that would require Pennsylvania and New Jersey officials to conduct annual audits of the agency that sets tolls and manages bridges over the river, The Morning Call reported.

Legislators have also proposed a separate bill that would direct the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission to adopt a uniform toll rate for all of its bridges.

The legislative proposals come amid controversy over toll increases the bridge commission imposed last November for seven toll bridges it maintains between Pennsylvania and New Jersey and questions about how the revenue is to be spent.

The increase hiked tolls on trucks from 50 cents per axle to $2.25 per axle. Tolls on cars were doubled from 50 cents to $1. In 2004, truck tolls are to increase again to $3.25 per axle.

The commission said the new rates were needed to help fund a 10-year, $526 million capital improvement plan for economic development.

Since then, The Morning Call reported that the commission intended to use about $250 million from the increases for unauthorized projects.

Although agency officials deny they have misled anyone about the commission’s intentions, Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Northampton, said he plans to introduce a bill requiring both states to conduct performance and financial audits of the commission every year to guarantee that the toll revenue is being properly managed.

“Commuters using these bridges and paying these tolls deserve to know how the toll revenues are being used,” Freeman said in a statement, “particularly in light of the revelation that the commission was planning on using some of the toll revenue for economic development that is beyond its stated mission.”

The provision was approved in New Jersey years ago but requires the same language to be approved in Pennsylvania and in Congress before it can be implemented.

In addition, Rep. Rich Grucela, D-Nazareth, said he would introduce legislation directing the commission to adopt a uniform toll rate structure for all toll bridges under its authority.