Launtenberg asks for NJ toll hike delay
"The planned toll hikes should be suspended until an external audit determines that the audit recommendations have been addressed," Lautenberg wrote in a letter. (The Trucker file photo)
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U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg and three fellow Democrats from the state’s congressional delegation asked the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last week to put off toll increases slated for December until the agency can prove it has followed the recommendations of a financial audit, the Star-Ledger reports.
"The planned toll hikes should be suspended until an external audit determines that the audit recommendations have been addressed," Lautenberg wrote in a letter also signed by Reps. Albio Sires, Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman. "We are not alone in this request; state and local officials in New Jersey have recommended that the Port Authority delay the hikes while reforms are under way."
Port Authority officials declined to comment.
Meanwhile, a toll expert who was among 300 transportation professionals from public agencies, technology companies, education and other areas of the nation’s tolling industry gathered for a three-day symposium on tolling at the Hyatt in Jersey City, said the public wants more say-so in how toll funds are used.
Peter Samuel, editor of Toll Roads News, an online newsletter chronicling the international tolling industry, Sunday said: "I think people are pretty cynical in most places about the public hearing process. I think the general reaction is, ‘They know what they’re going to do and they go ahead and do it regardless of the public.’"
The event, which ends today, is hosted by the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, a lobbying group based in Washington, D.C. It’s called the IBTTA Symposium on Mileage-Based User Fees & Transportation Finance.
Peak traffic tolls rose last year from $8 to $9.50 for E-ZPass users and to $12 for cash customers. Another increase is planned for December which will raise tolls to $10.25 and $13, respectively. Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed off on the increases on the condition the agency submit to a financial review. That review led to a scathing report by Navigant Consulting in February that said the agency is "dysfunctional" and recommended financial reforms.
The reforms included analyzing facilities to determine how to raise additional revenue or further cut costs; reviewing methods used in the agency’s 10-year economic forecast; and analyzing the return on investment as a factor in determining the feasibility of future projects.
Lautenberg traded barbs last week with Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, a Christie appointee, during a contentious Senate hearing in Washington.
When Lautenberg asked Baroni if the toll increase was fair, Baroni questioned Lautenberg’s moral authority to pose the question, since he had crossed bistate bridges and tunnels hundreds of times for free as a perk for having served as a Port Authority commissioner.
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The exchange prompted U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to issue a statement chiding Baroni for breaching Senate decorum. For his part, Christie defended Baroni and labeled Lautenberg "an embarrassment" for ambushing Baroni with the hostile grilling
Asked last week to reflect on the exchange following the Port Authority’s monthly meeting, Baroni said his words, like Christie’s analysis of the incident, "speak for themselves."
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