Penn lawmaker goes on offensive to curb toll increases

| Friday, August 26, 2011

Fed up with the way business is done at the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, a Pennsylvania state lawmaker is pursuing changes at the agency.

Rep. Joe Emrick, R-Northampton, is taking action following a toll rate hike recently implemented on the bridge commission’s seven toll bridges connecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

To prevent future toll increases without public input, Emrick is proposing three bills to give Pennsylvania more oversight of the DRJTBC.

The primary bill in the package would require an annual financial and management audit of the commission by Pennsylvania’s auditor general and his New Jersey counterpart.

“There is a need for greater oversight of the commission, and my bill allows the commission to be appropriately audited after many years of no auditing taking place,” Emrick said in a statement.

The other bills would allow for gubernatorial veto of actions by the Pennsylvania members of the commission. New Jersey law already includes the veto authority.

Making changes to how the 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 on July 1. As a result, large trucks are paying 75 cents more per axle – to $4 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 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.

Emrick labeled the fare increase a tax on users in more ways than one.

“Businesses that use the bridges regularly will pass the ‘tax’ along to their customers and consumers, who will be hit again. There has to be a better way,” he stated.

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

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