The Delaware River Port Authority yesterday defended its plans to spend $11 million on six projects in Philadelphia and Camden.
Responding to a request from the AAA auto club to forgo spending $9.5 million on nontransportation projects, the DRPA said the projects were "necessary and appropriate" and would boost revenues from bridge tolls and train fares.
The DRPA, which operates four Delaware River bridges and the PATCO High-Speed commuter rail line, has been criticized by commuters for using hundreds of millions of dollars in toll revenue for projects such as sports arenas and museums.
The DRPA board is to vote Wednesday on spending for a President's House memorial at Sixth and Market Streets ($3.5 million), and a restaurant on Franklin Square and improvements for the "Lights of Liberty" show ($2.5 million), and in Camden, a proposed medical school ($1.5 million), improvements along the Admiral Wilson Boulevard to aid the expansion of Campbell Soup Co. ($1.5 million), and the demolition of an office building ($2 million).
AAA had said it did not object to the $1.5 million for the Admiral Wilson improvements, which it said could be considered transportation-related.
In a letter to AAA Mid-Atlantic, DRPA customer service manager Maria Mondile said economic development spending was authorized by a 1992 amendment of the agency's bi-state charter "on the theory that in doing so, the DRPA not only fosters an improved quality of life in our host communities, but also generates increased bridge crossings and boosts transit ridership."
Since 1999, the authority has spent about $375 million on such projects as Lincoln Financial Field, the Kimmel Center, the National Constitution Center, the Camden Riversharks' baseball stadium, and, most recently, a soccer stadium complex on the Chester waterfront and the National Museum of American Jewish History near Independence Hall.
"While we fully recognize the sensitivity of local commuters to the use of this money for economic development at a time when bridge tolls are increasing and the economy is in turmoil," Mondile said, the funds "will go to projects that are vital to the future of our region and our ridership."
"What the critics routinely discount . . . is that these projects also are likely to generate significant new trips across our bridges and on our trains," she said in the letter.
The DRPA board meeting, open to the public, will begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the agency's headquarters, adjacent to the Adventure Aquarium, 2 Riverside Dr., Camden.