By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor
The governors of New York and New Jersey vowed not to raise taxes, but that’s precisely what has happened in a deal struck Friday with the local port authority to increase truck tolls by 125 percent and car tolls by 67 percent. The fast-tracked plan has left truckers with feelings of betrayal as only a fraction of the new revenue will be used to improve infrastructure.
As part of the plan, the $40 truck toll on the George Washington Bridge will become $50 on Sept. 1 of this year. Then the truck rate will increase $10 each December from 2012 through 2015, ending up at $90. That amounts to a 125 percent increase by 2015.
And that’s for the E-ZPass customers. Cash customers will make out much worse. In addition to the $10 increase each year, cash customers will be forced to pay an additional “penalty” of $3 per axle, according to the agreement reached Friday, Aug. 19, between the governors and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.
The icing on the cake is that just $9 billion of the proposed $33 billion in estimated new revenue will actually go to fix up the facilities. The rest goes into capital improvements and economic development that have little if anything to do with toll bridges.
“The trucking industry is not going to benefit from this toll increase,” said small-business owner and OOIDA Member Jim Ellis, of Asbury, NJ, who attended a hearing this week in Newark.
He said truckers attempting to speak in protest during the hearings were harassed and intimidated by port authority workers who showed up in droves in matching orange shirts.
“I put my effort into it, but they’re not going to listen to anybody on the trucking side,” he said. “I can’t afford to absorb this. The trucking industry is not getting any respect like we should, and that was shown the other day.”
According to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the capital improvement plan funded by the toll increase will create and preserve thousands of jobs. It will continue funding billions of dollars for the World Trade Center site and other efforts to draw economic development to the region.
But using toll increases to fund economic development projects doesn’t sit well with highway users.
Gail Toth, president of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association, says highway users should not be forced to shoulder the burden for economic development of the region just because they drive across certain bridges to do their jobs.
“This should be an insult to the American people, not just to the American trucker,” Toth said.
“They’re making the toll payers a different class of citizen and saying those citizens should be taxed more just because they use a bridge,” Toth said. “When did toll payers become responsible for the economic development for a city or for a 20-mile radius of a bridge?”
Toth said one of her association’s members, a small carrier, currently pays $160,000 a month in tolls to deliver food into New York. She can’t imagine how a company like that will absorb a 125 percent increase.
“There’s been so much coming down on our industry, I don’t know how much more our guys can take,” she said.
“For the money the truckers have paid to the port authority over the years, we should have a gold-plated bridge.”
The light at the end of the tunnel is not the brightest, either, she adds. In 2008, then New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine implemented a multi-phase toll increase on the nearby New Jersey Turnpike system.
“I tell my members, ‘Don’t forget, you’ve also got a 50 percent increase coming on the turnpike from the 2008 Corzine increase,’” Toth said.
That will also affect Ellis, who uses both the turnpike and port authority facilities in his work runs. He says by the time he adds up all the tolls, a single run through New Jersey and New York will likely cost $300 a pop.
“This is going to kill a lot of small businesses,” he said.
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