Saying it marked the end of an expensive era, the board of the Delaware River Port Authority spent $20 million of its remaining economic-development funds for non-transportation projects Wednesday.
The board's two unappointed members, Pennsylvania's auditor general and treasurer, opposed the spending, arguing that the money should have gone for transportation projects or toward reducing the agency's $1.4 billion debt.
The vote on the last $29.9 million of the DRPA's controversial economic-development funds sent about $10 million back to the agency for future capital projects and $19.7 million to such projects as local food banks, a new cancer center in Camden, student housing for Rutgers-Camden, and Cooper River rowing facilities.
Pennsylvania auditor general Jack Wagner, unsuccessful in his attempt to block the spending, then called on the board to dedicate most of the unspent $10 million to two transportation projects that were cut from the agency's 2012 capital budget and sought a future vote on them: a bicycle and wheelchair ramp on the Camden side of the Ben Franklin Bridge ($3.2 million) and the reopening of the long-closed Franklin Square subway station on the PATCO line in Philadelphia ($3.5 million).
The board on Wednesday also approved the DRPA's operating and capital budgets for 2012. The agency operates four toll bridges linking Philadelphia and South Jersey and the PATCO commuter rail line.
The agency's operating budget will be $126.8 million, essentially the same as this year. Total spending, including debt payments and biennial bridge-inspection costs, is slated to be $275 million, a 4 percent increase from this year.
The capital budget, for such things as bridge repairs and rebuilt PATCO railcars, was set at $125 million, about $25 million less than for the current year.