A federal judge said last week that he agrees with the
merits of a lawsuit challenging the latest toll hike imposed on commercial
drivers by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.
But U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter also said
Tuesday, Jan. 11, that truckers might not legally be able to challenge toll
fees in federal court.
The New Jersey Motor Truck Association, Pennsylvania Motor
Truck Association, American Trucking Association and Ohio-based Roadway Express
filed their complaint in December 2002, a couple of weeks after the bridge
commission increased car and truck tolls.
The truckers are pressing for a rollback in truck tolls from
the current $2.75-per-axle fee to $2.25 per axle.
They claim the current fee is not “just and reasonable” given that the commission has a surplus of $118 million, almost three times its
$40 million operating budget, The Express-Times reported.
“That strikes me as being way too much of a reserve,”
Buckwalter said Tuesday during an argument session in Philadelphia with
attorneys for the plaintiffs and the bridge commission. “I don’t see how (the
commission) can hold that kind of cash.”
Yet he hinted he would dismiss the suit, based on a 1987 law
that ended federal reviews of tolls.
Bridge commission attorney James M. McMaster said the
commission has always operated with a large surplus in case unforeseen events
require additional spending, and toll increases “take a long time” to approve.
According to local media, the commission had a $48 million surplus at the end
of 2002, only weeks after enacting toll increases for the first time since
Commission officials have said the toll increases were
needed to pay for a 10-year, $526 million maintenance plan and create a $300
million insurance reserve in case of terrorism.
The commission is a bistate agency responsible for 20
bridges between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Seven are toll bridges.