Reforms pursued at Delaware River Port Authority

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, August 06, 2015

A legislative package making its way through the Pennsylvania statehouse would reform the Delaware River Port Authority.

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

The Pennsylvania Senate voted unanimously to advance two bills to the House that are intended to overhaul how business is done at the bi-state agency that runs four bridges and a commuter rail in the Philadelphia area. The four bridges are the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Commodore Barry, and Betsy Ross bridges.

The $325-million-a-year agency is funded by tolls to cross the bridges.

Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, said the goal is to ensure that the agency is run efficiently and cost-effectively without undue influence or conflicts of interest.

“The DRPA has come under increasing scrutiny over recent years for its unacceptable practices, including its patronage hiring, lack of transparency, lavish perks, excessive spending and debt, and burdensome toll increases,” Rafferty wrote in a memo to Senate lawmakers.

He has also said that the changes would help focus the agency by “maintaining its core function and not branching off to other unrelated areas that cause large toll increases.”

The first bill, SB286, would prohibit the bi-state agency from engaging in economic development activity. Other changes include forcing the agency to comply with ethics and public records laws. In addition, a two-thirds majority of commissioners would need to sign off on any toll increase.

A similar pursuit is underway at the New Jersey statehouse.

Critics say the agency’s board has already adopted many of the changes.

Bill advocates say it’s important to make sure the changes are law in both states to avoid simply relying on the agency to police itself.

The other Senate-approved bill, SB287, would give the Pennsylvania governor veto power over actions of the agency’s board. The New Jersey governor already has this authority.

Both bills await further consideration in the House Transportation Committee.

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

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