Pennsylvania lawmaker renews pursuit of bridge commission reforms

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 8/10/2015

An effort underway at the Pennsylvania statehouse is described as bringing more accountability to operations of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.

Rep. Joe Emrick, R-Nazareth, has renewed his effort to advance a three-bill package to 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.

“My legislation inserts a level of accountability into the commission’s activities that is sorely lacking,” Emrick said in prepared remarks.

House lawmakers approved the package each of the past two years with unanimous consent but the bills failed to get consideration in the Senate.

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 Emrick’s package, HB814, 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.

Two more Pennsylvania bills cover veto authority already in place in New Jersey. HB812 would allow for gubernatorial veto of actions by the commission. HB813 would give the governor 10 days to invoke veto power over any actions by an individual commissioner.

Emrick has 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 freedom the agency has to make decisions that have had detrimental effects on commuters, taxpayers and business.

“While this is not a statewide issue, it is an interstate issue as New Jersey has already agreed to this and is waiting on us to fulfill our half of the agreement.”

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

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