Reforms could soon be in order at two New Jersey port authorities

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 12/2/2014

If one New Jersey state lawmaker gets his way, reforms will soon be on the way at the Delaware River Port Authority.

Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-Morris, is the sponsor of a bill that is intended to improve accountability and transparency at the bi-state agency that runs four bridges and a commuter rail in the Philadelphia area.

The $325-million-a-year agency is funded by tolls to cross the bridges. DRPA has been under federal investigation for the past year for money spent on economic development.

Pennacchio’s bill, S2013, would allow anyone interested to obtain public records under the state’s Open Public Records Act, Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law, or both.

“People know we cannot rely on the foxes to police these henhouses,” Pennacchio said in a previous news release.

The bill awaits consideration in the Senate Transportation Committee.

If approved in New Jersey, Pennsylvania state lawmakers must also sign off on the new rule. To change DRPA’s federal charter, identical legislation must be enacted in both states and be approved by the federal government.

Also in New Jersey, a separate bill on its way to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk is intended to make the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey comply with open records laws.

S2183 would subject the Port Authority to the public records laws of both states. Adherence to the laws would provide the public access to certain internal documents.

The bi-state agency has been under greater scrutiny following the unannounced closure of three lanes in Fort Lee, N.J., in September 2013 that snarled traffic for days on the George Washington Bridge.

Democratic legislators allege the project was political retribution against the Fort Lee mayor because he didn’t endorse Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for re-election last fall.

Port Authority officials say the closures were related to a traffic study. Three officials at the Port Authority have since resigned. Investigations into the allegations about the lane closures continue.

Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, D-Burlington/Camden, said the legislation is about implementing “fundamental changes” to restore the public trust, create a more efficient agency and better serve the people of the state.

If Gov. Christie signs the reform bills into law, identical legislation would also need to be adopted in New York. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a bill on his desk that specifies that records of the Port Authority and meetings of the board and its committees be open to the public.

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