Toll bridge commission reform bill advances

| Monday, October 20, 2003

A Pennsylvania House panel passed legislation calling for state officials from Pennsylvania and New Jersey to conduct audits of the agency that sets tolls and manages bridges over the Delaware River.

The House Intergovernmental Affairs Committee voted unanimously to advance the bill. It now heads to the House floor for consideration.

HB1801 was introduced this summer amid controversy over toll increases the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission imposed last November for seven toll bridges it maintains between the two states and questions about how the revenue is to be spent, The Associated Press reported recently.

The increase hiked tolls on trucks from 80 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 $2.75 per axle.

The agency 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 in a recent statement his bill would require both states to conduct performance and financial audits of the commission every two years to guarantee 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, “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.

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