Pennsylvania House endorses bridge commission reforms

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/2/2015

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

Rep. Joe Emrick, R-Nazareth, says the legislative pursuit is an effort 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 simply clears up inconsistencies in state law and would allow a more transparent view into the commission’s financial practices,” Emrick said in prepared remarks.

The House voted unanimously to advance the bill to require an annual financial and management audit of the commission by the Pennsylvania’s auditor general and his New Jersey counterpart.

The bill would also give the governor 10 days to invoke veto power over any actions by an individual commissioner. HB813 now moves to the Senate for further consideration.

New Jersey already has both rules in place.

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.

“New Jersey is waiting on us to comply,” Emrick stated. “As a result, the commission has been able to operate unsupervised without someone keeping close tabs on activities such as the toll hike of 2011.”

Emrick has said the gubernatorial authority in Pennsylvania could have derailed the rate hike 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.

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

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