Reform sought for Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission

| 7/6/2011

A bill on the move in the New Jersey Senate is intended to curtail spending and misuse of funds at the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission. The legislative action comes as a toll rate hike is being implemented.

The agency sets tolls for certain bridges over the Delaware River.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted unanimously to advance a bill to the full Senate that attempts to rein in the bridge commission, which maintains and operates seven toll bridges and 13 free bridges connecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The measure is part of a five-bill package to restrict spending and impose ethics standards on government agencies in the state, including the DRJTBC.

Sponsored by Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden, the bill – S2350 – would impose restrictions concerning the agency’s commissioners, officers, and employees regarding employment, gifts and compensation.

Violators would face fines of up to $10,000 and potential termination of employment. In addition, offenders could also be barred from holding public employment for up to five years.

“Commuters expect their toll money to go toward ensuring the bridges they travel are safe and secure, not to support frivolous spending or employee perks,” Norcross said in a statement.

Making changes to how the toll bridge commission is run is a complex process. Because the agency is set up by a federal charter, identical legislation must be enacted in both states and approved by the federal government.

Adding to public angst about how the toll bridge commission is run, the agency enacted a new toll rate structure the first of this month. In the days since, large trucks are paying 75 cents more per axle – to $4.00 from $3.25 per axle. Tolls for passenger vehicles are up 25 cents – to $1 from 75 cents.

Discounted E-ZPass rates remain available for truckers and other users that travel during off-peak periods.

Agency officials said the rate hikes approved in May are necessary to keep up with capital improvements. An agency press release notes that higher truck fees reflect the “greater wear and tear trucks cause” on roads and bridges.

Fed up with the way business is done at the toll bridge commission, Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, has introduced a bill to abolish the commission and transfer the bridges under its control to the New Jersey and Pennsylvania transportation departments.

The bill – S2886 – calls for the two states to pay any outstanding bonds of the commission and remove all tolls. It too would require approval in both states as well as Congress.

To view other legislative activities of interest for New Jersey, click here.

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