The Delaware River Port Authority will spend $281.5 million next year, about 18.3 percent more than this year, if its proposed operating budget is approved by the agency's board tomorrow.

The agency, which operates four toll bridges between Philadelphia and South Jersey and the PATCO High-Speed commuter-rail line, isn't getting as much new revenue from higher bridge tolls as it had expected, agency officials said yesterday as they unveiled the proposed budget.

Since a $1 toll increase was imposed in September, bridge traffic has dropped about 7 percent. So DRPA's 2009 budget anticipates $45 million more from drivers than in 2008, instead of $55 million more, as originally expected.

Bridge tolls will provide about $241 million, and PATCO fares will provide about $24 million, of the agency's revenue in 2009. PATCO ridership is expected to increase by 6 percent, to 10.1 million passengers.

The biggest increases in expenses are for higher payments on the DRPA's growing debt and for a bigger contribution to its general-fund reserve.

The agency's 966 employees, including chief executive John Matheussen, will get a 3 percent pay increase in 2009. Matheussen's salary will rise to $226,059 if the budget is approved.

The DRPA raised tolls and fares this year - and will raise them again in 2010 - to pay for $1 billion in bridge repairs and upgrades to its PATCO rail fleet over the next five years.

The biggest expense in its 2009 budget - $117 million, or 41 percent of the budget - is earmarked for payments on the DRPA's debt. The DRPA has a higher debt burden, compared with its income, than any toll-collecting agency in the region.

The bistate agency's debt is partly a legacy of "economic-development" spending over the past decade. Since 1999, the DRPA has spent about $375 million on such projects as Lincoln Financial Field, the Kimmel Center, the National Constitution Center, the Camden Riversharks' minor league baseball stadium, and, most recently, a soccer stadium complex on the Chester waterfront and the National Museum of American Jewish History near Independence Hall.

The DRPA board this year promised an angry public that none of the money raised by the new toll increases would go for economic-development projects.

But nearly $35 million remains from previous borrowing for economic projects on both sides of the Delaware River. There is $21,255,965 left for projects on the New Jersey riverfront, and $13,363,243 remaining for projects on the Pennsylvania side, chief financial officer John Hanson said yesterday.

The 2009 operating budget includes $7 million to $10 million that will be used on pay-as-you-go capital expenses, such as new vehicles, Hanson said. In the past, the agency had borrowed for those costs with long-term bond issues.

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.