Delaware Memorial Bridge toll resolution advances capital projects

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A compromise Delaware Memorial Bridge toll hike plan will allow major capital upgrades to proceed on the heavily traveled twin suspension crossing.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Delaware Gov. John Carney signed off on a resolution Wednesday that advances a $1 toll increase for passenger vehicles while also offering discounts to certain drivers. The agreement paves the way for the Delaware River and Bay Authority to move forward with infrastructure improvements on the bridge that were in limbo after Governor Murphy vetoed the toll hike on Jan. 2.

“I’m thrilled to have worked with Governor Carney to generate this modified proposal that is more fair to commuters, and allows us to invest in the Delaware Memorial Bridge to keep it in good-repair,” said Murphy in a statement. “This modified proposal allows us to ensure the safe passage of travelers from New Jersey and Delaware, while addressing the commuting costs of our residents, critical goals shared by both states.”

The DRBA’s board of commissioners is scheduled to approve the revised toll increase at its Feb. 20 meeting with the new rates scheduled to take effect May 1. The proposal is estimated to generate $32 million in new annual revenue compared to $34 million under the previous proposal Murphy vetoed.

DRBA spokesman James Salmon said the agency’s capital improvement plan through 2021 from the toll hikes was reduced to $400 million from $440 million to account for the new revenue projections. The agency was originally planning to issue two separate bond deals totaling around $270 million. Salmon said the timing and size of any borrowing for the slightly smaller capital program would be determined soon.

“We're pleased a resolution has been reached and we thank Governor Carney and Governor Murphy for working with us,” Salmon said in a statement. “The additional revenue is absolutely necessary to fund critical infrastructure projects at the Delaware Memorial Bridge and Cape May Lewes Ferry.”

The DRBA relies solely on the collection of bridge tolls along with fares and fees at its ferry operations and concessions. The bi-state agency receives no financial support from Delaware or New Jersey.

The Delaware Memorial Bridge, which connects New Jersey and Delaware, generates 75% of the DRBA’s operating revenue and 100% of net revenues, according to the authority. The span connects the New Jersey Turnpike with Interstate 95 in Delaware and is part of the primary highway link between New York and Washington, D.C.

The DRBA has bond ratings of A1 from Moody’s Investors Service and A from S&P Global Ratings with stable outlooks. Moody’s issued a report on Jan. 17 calling the toll hike veto a credit negative because of the prospects of losing $34 million in additional yearly revenue that would result in limiting the authority’s operating flexibility.

The modified tolling proposal includes an EZ-Pass discount for passenger cars of 25 cents off the $5 toll. It also increases the “frequent traveler” discount rate of 20 trips in 90 calendar days from $1.25 to $1.75.

“Discussions on a path forward were positive and constructive and I’m pleased we were able to find common ground,” Carney said in a statement. “With additional revenue, the DRBA can now proceed with many vital infrastructure investments at Delaware Memorial Bridge and Cape May-Lewes Ferry that otherwise would have been delayed or postponed indefinitely.

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Infrastructure Toll revenue bonds Delaware River Bay Authority New Jersey Delaware