Legislation to require state officials from Pennsylvania and
New Jersey to conduct audits of the agency that sets tolls and manages bridges
over the Delaware River has died.
The bill remained in Pennsylvania’s Senate Appropriations
Committee when the session ended Nov. 21, effectively killing it for the year.
It previously passed the House by a vote of 197-1.
Sponsored by Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Northampton, the measure
was introduced in the summer of 2003 amid controversy about toll increases
imposed a year earlier by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission. The
increases applied to seven toll bridges the commission maintains between the
two states. The bill – HB1801 – addressed questions about how the toll revenue
is to be spent, The Associated Press reported.
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 2005, truck
tolls are to increase again from their current $2.75 per axle to $3.25 per
axle. Tolls on cars will then drop a quarter to 75 cents.
The bridge commission said the new rates were needed to help
fund a 10-year, $526 million capital improvement plan, including expansions of
the Scudder Falls and Route 1 bridges.
However, The Morning Call later reported that the
commission intended to use about $250 million from the increases for
Although agency officials deny they misled anyone about the
commission’s intentions, Freeman contended it was important “that annual joint
state audits be conducted to ensure that toll revenues are being properly
“Commuters using these bridges and paying these tolls
deserve to know how the toll revenues are being used,” he 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, Congress and by the
president before it can be implemented.
Freeman said he plans to reintroduce the commission reform
legislation during the new session that begins in January.
Freeman said he sees reason for hope next year. “We did have
some initial success in the House,” he said.