Toll talk continues at statehouses

| 7/21/2011

Each year at statehouses around the country legislators spend a lot of time discussing methods to fund transportation work. One funding option that tends to receive a lot of attention is tolls.

State lawmakers in Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are discussing multiple efforts that address needs and concerns associated with revenue generation.

A two-bill package at the Michigan statehouse would allow the state to enter a public-private partnership with Canada and a private group to build and operate a toll bridge in Detroit downriver from the Ambassador Bridge – the busiest commercial border crossing between the U.S. and Canada. Taxpayer money could not be used to build the bridge. Also, the bridge could not add to the state’s debt. The bills are SB410 and SB411.

The bridge project is opposed by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun. He has been pushing to build his own bridge next to the existing structure.

In New Jersey, a Senate-approved bill would roll back future toll hikes on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway.

Specifically, S2636 would direct the turnpike authority to adopt a resolution to reduce tolls no longer required for payment of a now defunct tunnel project to link New York and New Jersey.

Truckers and other drivers have been paying more since 2008 to access the roadways. Tolls for heavy commercial vehicles to travel the full length of the turnpike were increased from $26.55 to $37.15 to help pay for a commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

A nearly identical increase is expected in 2012.

Also in New Jersey is a reform package that is intended to prevent spending and ethics abuses within all public bodies in the state. S2350 would impose restrictions concerning Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission commissioners, officers, and employees regarding employment, gifts, and compensation.

Across the state line in Pennsylvania, a bill is intended to reform the Delaware River Port Authority.

The $300-million-a-year bistate agency is funded by tolls on vehicles crossing the Delaware River in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

SB129 would make the agency more transparent and open to the public.

Provisions include adopting an open records policy; providing sufficient public notice prior to any vote concerning a contract; prohibiting vehicle allowances; and prohibiting the acceptance of any gifts.

To change DRPAs federal charter, identical legislation must be enacted in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and approved by the federal government.

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