The New Jersey Assembly unanimously approved a bill that
would give the state more control over the agency that sets tolls for certain
bridges over the Delaware River. The bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.
Existing law requires the governors in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to appoint members to the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, which
critics say operates mostly in secret and at the expense of drivers. The bill –
A908 – would require the commission to hold public hearings in both states
before increasing tolls.
In an attempt to rein in the bridge commission, which
maintains and operates seven toll bridges and 13 free bridges connecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer, has offered the bill,
which also would order the commission to provide both governors with detailed
annual financial reports.
This is the third time in as many sessions Gusciora has
sought the oversight. Two years ago, the Assembly approved the bill, which then
stalled in a Senate panel. In 2003, the bill never came up for a vote before
the full Assembly.
The legislation was initially introduced amid controversy
about toll increases the agency imposed in December 2002 for the toll bridges
it maintains between the two states and questions about how the revenue is to
be spent, The Associated Press reported.
The increase more than doubled tolls on trucks – raising
them from 80 cents per axle to $2.25 per axle. Tolls on cars were doubled from
50 cents to $1. Truck tolls have since increased to $3.25 per axle. Tolls on
cars have dropped a quarter to 75 cents.
The commission said the new rates were needed to help fund a
10-year, $526 million capital improvement plan that has since increased to $624
However, it was later reported that the commission intended
to use about $250 million from the increases for unauthorized projects.
Agency officials denied they misled anyone about the
If signed into law, the provision must also be approved in Pennsylvania because of an interstate agreement that requires each state and Congress to
adopt identical laws regulating its operation.
About a decade ago, New Jersey granted its governor veto
authority over commission decisions and its auditor authority to investigate
the commission, but Pennsylvania has yet to enact the same provisions.