DRPA votes to postpone bridge toll hikes
Toll increases on four major Delaware River bridges will be postponed for 10 months until July 1, 2011. Tolls will remain $4 for autos after the Delaware River Port Authority board voted yesterday to delay a $1 increase that was to take effect in September.
Toll increases on four major Delaware River bridges will be postponed for 10 months until July 1, 2011.
Tolls will remain $4 for autos after the Delaware River Port Authority board voted yesterday to delay a $1 increase that was to take effect in September.
Citing tough economic times, the board voted to use $8 million of its economic-development money to partially offset the loss of anticipated income from higher tolls.
"People are hurting . . . and we wanted to find a way to hold off on the toll increase," said Jeffrey Nash, a Camden County freeholder and the DRPA board's vice chairman.
A 10 percent increase in fares for PATCO commuter trains will take effect as scheduled Sept. 1.
Many commuters have long objected to the DRPA's use of toll revenue on economic-development projects, such as sports stadiums, museums, and concert halls. The decision to use some of its remaining economic-development money to delay a toll increase was praised by the AAA motorists' club.
"It must really be the season of goodwill," said David Weinstein, spokesman for AAA Clubs of New Jersey. "AAA commends the authority for its long-overdue recognition that motorists are not money trees."
The board also approved its operating and capital budgets for 2010, providing for a 5 percent increase in operating spending over 2009 and a 37 percent increase in capital spending.
The board also approved new contracts with employees represented by two of its three unions. The contracts contain no raises in 2010.
A three-year contract for toll collectors, who earn $46,176 a year, provides for 3 percent raises in 2011 and 2012. A two-year pact with information-services employees calls for a 3 percent increase in 2011.
No contract agreement has been reached with the union representing the agency's 92 transit police, whose pact - like the others - expires at the end of this month.
DRPA chief executive John Matheussen credited board chairman John Estey and Nash with pushing for the delay in the toll hike.
The board's Pennsylvania and New Jersey delegations each agreed to use $4 million from its economic-development fund to pay down debt and permit the delay.
The postponement will reduce the DRPA's income by $15 million in 2010 and by $25 million in 2011, said John Hanson, chief financial officer.
In other actions, the board agreed on uses for most of its remaining economic-development money:
$1.5 million to underwrite the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2017.
$12.9 million to the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. for lending to small businesses and other "projects that will improve the region's economic climate."
$4 million to settle previous "interest rate swap" deals or redeem outstanding principal.
$3 million to reopen the long-closed PATCO station at Franklin Square at Sixth and Arch Streets.
$500,000 to monitor environmental remediation at the Victor Lofts apartment project in Camden.
That will leave $2 million in economic funding controlled by Estey and the Pennsylvania delegation. The New Jersey delegation has about $13 million left, of which as much as $7 million is tied up in loan guarantees, Nash said.
The flurry of economic-development spending yesterday largely ends a controversial decade of such spending in which about $386 million went to projects such as Lincoln Financial Field, the Kimmel Center, the National Constitution Center, the Camden Riversharks' baseball stadium, a soccer stadium complex on the Chester waterfront, the National Museum of American Jewish History, and the President's House memorial near Independence Hall.
The apparent end of the spending means that "we're not going to engage in economic decision-making any longer, outside of bridge and transportation-related projects," Nash said.