Motorists and mass-transit riders could see higher bridge tolls and mass transit fares by mid-September if the Delaware River Port Authority of Pennsylvania and New Jersey approves the increases at its monthly board meeting on Wednesday.
The authority's finance committee last week accepted the proposed toll and fare hikes, thereby moving the initiative onto the board's agenda for final authorization. Officials say increasing bridge tolls to $4 from $3 in September and boosting that toll again in 2010 to $5 would support updating the authority's four bridges.
In addition, raising fares by 20% next month and again in 2010 on the PATCO rail line, which connects southern New Jersey to Philadelphia, would help finance a $3 billion expansion plan on the system. That development involves adding new rail lines to expand service in Camden and Gloucester counties and in downtown Philadelphia by 2017.
Officials anticipate that raising bridge tolls and increasing fares will boost the authority's revenue stream as DRPA anticipates receiving $38 million additionally per year in additional toll revenue from September's potential increase, with those new revenues projected to double after the 2010 hike, according to John Hanson, the authority's chief financial officer. Additional PATCO fare revenues would total $2 million per year after next month's 20% boost and tag on an additional $2 million annually after the 2010 increase.
Along with the above changes, bridge tolls and PATCO fares would increase every two years after 2010 based on cost of living increases. The DRPA's last toll hike was in 2000 and its most recent PATCO fare increase was a 16% boost in 2001.
In response to higher bridge tolls and PATCO fares, New Jersey state Sen. Diane Allen, R-Burlington, in late July sent a letter to Gov. Jon Corzine, asking him to use his executive powers and veto the minutes of any DRPA board meeting that would approve the toll and fare hikes, which would then nullify the increases. Allen said she has yet to receive a response to that letter.
"If the governor does not stop these toll hikes, then I think they should be laid right at his doorstep because he has the ability to stop them and anybody who uses the bridges needs to know that if the governor doesn't stop [the increase] then that means the governor has approved it."
E-mails to the governor's office were not returned.
Instead of asking motorists and PATCO riders to spend more on DRPA's four bridges and the mass-transit system, Allen said the authority must tighten its belt and live within its means.
"To accomplish that they need to go back and look at their own staff, and they need to look at what they're spending their money on," Allen said.
To help finance the bridge repair work and PATCO expansion, the authority anticipates selling roughly $1 billion of bonds over the next three years, and officials are working on a potential $450 million new-money transaction. That deal could price this year or the beginning of 2009. Officials plan to present that bond deal to its board in October, Hanson said. The authority has yet to release a request for proposals to select a banker on that transaction.
The DRPA is a bi-state authority that oversees the Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman, Commodore Barry and Betsy Ross Bridges, and PATCO, along with the Philadelphia Cruise Terminal. Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell chairs the board, which includes seven members appointed by Keystone State governors and another eight members appointed by New Jersey governors.