Pennsylvania Senate advances bridge commission reforms

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Thursday, November 12, 2015

A bill nearing passage in the Pennsylvania Senate would provide more legislative oversight of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.

The agency maintains and operates seven toll bridges and 13 free bridges connecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The DRJTBC is made up of 10 commissioners with five from each state.

Currently, the New Jersey members are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the New Jersey Senate. The Pennsylvania members are appointed by the governor without legislative confirmation.

Sen. Marc Scavello, R-Mount Pocono, is the sponsor of a bill to give the Pennsylvania Senate the authority to confirm commissioners in the Keystone State.

“Given that the decisions made by the Delaware Joint Toll Bridge Commission greatly impact businesses and motorists, it makes common sense to have its members vetted by the Senate,” Scavello said in prepared remarks.

He points out that the Senate already confirms members of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission.

Other pieces of legislation described as bringing more accountability to operations of the commission include a House-approved 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, HB813, would also give the governor 10 days to invoke veto power over any actions by an individual commissioner.

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,” stated Rep. Joe Emrick, R-Nazareth. “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.

Two more bills would allow for gubernatorial veto of actions by the commission and would require an annual financial and management audit of the commission by the auditor general and his New Jersey counterpart.

Both authorities are already in place in the Garden State.

“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,” Emrick said.

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

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