Cars to get toll relief on Delaware River bridges; trucks not so lucky

| Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Cars crossing the Delaware River between Pennsylvania and New Jersey could soon get a little financial relief. But for truckers, tolls on bridges crossing the river will soon rise more than Hurricane Isabel’s recent storm surge.

Media outlets on both sides of the river reported Sept. 22 that Gov. James McGreevey of New Jersey and Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania have recommended that the recently increased tolls drop. The proposal would make tolls identical on all of the bridges operated by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.

Car drivers would actually see a decrease in the tolls they pay now. Crossing the river can run as high as $1.25 on some bridges; the plan would make all bridge tolls for cars 75 cents.

However, trucks would not see a decrease. The next scheduled increase in tolls, to $3.25 an axle, would be blunted, with tolls only increasing from the current $2.25 per axle to $2.75 an axle, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The toll on a five-axle truck had run $4 on five of the bridges before the recent increases, The Intelligencer reported, roughly 80 cents per axle. After the first round, that increased to $2.25 per axle, or $11.25 – an 81 percent increase.

The scheduled increase to $3.25 would have put the tolls at more than 300 percent of their original level. However, even under the governors’ plan, truckers would pay $2.75, or 247 percent of the original toll price per axle.

Some type of toll reduction had been expected. Media outlets reported Aug. 25 that the two governors were working out the details of the deal to reduce the tolls.

However, not all state officials think the plan does enough. Even an earlier plan that would have cut truck tolls 25 cents per axle was decried.

Kristi Petrides, an aide for New Jersey Assemblyman Guy Gregg, R-Washington Township, told The Trenton Times that even a 25-cent reduction would not be enough. That would cut only $1.25 out of the $7.25 increase many trucks have paid since tolls increased to $2.25 per axle.

To pay for the toll cuts, the commission will eliminate a self-insurance fund for catastrophic events, such as a terrorist strike, The Inquirer reported.

The Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission increased the tolls last November on seven bridges it maintains between the two states. The tolls support maintenance on the total 20 bridges over the river operated by the commission. In some cases, tolls would have increased 300 percent.

Truckers, local political and business leaders and others objected to the higher tolls almost immediately. The tolls became the subject of another controversy when local media sources revealed earlier this year that the increases would pay for things besides bridge work.

The bridge commission said the new rates were needed to help fund a 10-year, $526 million capital improvement plan for economic development. However, The Trentonian reported in early March that a portion of the toll hikes would pay 45 percent raises to the top three executives of the bridge commission. Frank G. McCartney, executive director of the commission, defended the pay hikes, telling the newspaper the raises were designed to “retain talent” to help with the commission’s plan to rehabilitate its bridges.

In addition, The Allentown Morning Call reported earlier this year the commission intended to use about $250 million from the increases for unauthorized projects, including economic development such as projects on waterfront property and airport work.

The Newark Star-Ledgerreported the Toll Bridge Commission is expected to discuss the governors’ plan Sept. 29.

The governors’ proposed new toll structure would affect the following bridges: Trenton-Morrisville, New Hope-Lambertville, Interstate 78, Easton-Phillipsburg, Portland-Columbia, Delaware Water Gap Interstate 80, and Milford-Montague.

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