Pennsylvania Senate endorses Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission reforms

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 5/20/2014

A three-bill package that is halfway through the Pennsylvania statehouse is described as bringing more accountability to operations of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.

“The legislation is long overdue,” Rep. Joe Emrick, R-Northampton, said in prepared remarks.

The Pennsylvania House voted unanimously to advance three bills that would give the state more oversight of the bridge commission. The agency maintains and operates seven toll bridges and 13 free bridges connecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Making changes to how the 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.

The primary bill in the package, HB620, would require an annual financial and management audit of the commission by Pennsylvania’s auditor general and his New Jersey counterpart. The Garden State already has the rule in place.

Emrick stated that an independent audit is needed because it “will provide a more open and transparent report card on the commission’s actions.”

Two more Pennsylvania bills cover veto authority already in place in New Jersey. HB619 would allow for gubernatorial veto of actions by the commission. HB621 would give the governor 10 days to invoke veto power over any actions by an individual commissioner.

Emrick said the gubernatorial authority in Pennsylvania could have derailed a 2011 toll increase that charged large trucks 75 cents more per axle – to $4 from $3.25 per axle. Tolls for passenger vehicles increased 25 cents – to $1 from 75 cents.

At the time, agency officials said the rate hikes were necessary to keep up with capital improvements. An agency press release noted that higher truck fees reflected the “greater wear and tear trucks cause” on roads and bridges.

Emrick said action is needed to address the free rein the agency has to make decisions that have had detrimental effects on commuters, taxpayers and business.

“New Jersey is waiting on us to pass these bills so we can begin the process of more closely scrutinizing the commission’s operations.”

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