Most of the Delaware River Port Authority's unspent $29.9 million in economic-development funds will go to non-transportation projects, according to a plan announced Monday.
The biggest payment, $6 million, is set for a new cancer center at Cooper University Hospital, whose board chairman is South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross.
The DRPA has delayed for more than a year a decision on what to do with its unspent economic-development money, the remnants of about $500 million borrowed and spent over the last 13 years on projects such as sports stadiums, concert halls, and museums.
The use of economic-development funds for non-transportation projects has long been a source of controversy for the DRPA, which gets its money primarily from tolls on four bridges linking Philadelphia and South Jersey.
"We're disappointed," said Jenny Robinson, spokeswoman for the AAA-MidAtlantic auto club. "Our position all along has been that the leftover funds should benefit the commuters."
"Some may be worthy projects, but that wasn't really the point of our concerns," she said. "We think the money should go for its intended purpose: to benefit the tollpayers."
The spending plan was approved by the governors of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, who appoint most of the DRPA board members.
A spokesman for Gov. Christie said the Governor's Authorities Unit had scrutinized the spending and determined it designated for "worthy and appropriate projects, ones that had been in the pipeline and to which we do not object," said Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak.
"But make no mistake, this is the end of economic-development projects for DRPA, which will now focus solely on its core transportation mission in the region," he said.
A spokesman for Gov. Corbett said that Corbett, as chairman of the DRPA, was aware of the spending plan, but he noted that the projects were all for New Jersey. Pennsylvania's share of the economic-development pot was spent before Corbett took over as chairman.
Corbett wants the DRPA to "get back to its core mission" of funding transportation projects, spokesman Kevin Harley said.
About $10 million of the remaining uncommitted $29.9 million is to be returned to the DRPA's coffers for use on future capital projects, such as bridge repairs, according to a resolution that is to be considered Wednesday by the DRPA board's finance committee.
The rest, about $19.7 million, is proposed to be spent on these projects:
$6 million: a new cancer center being built at Cooper University Hospital, scheduled for completion in spring 2013.
$4.3 million: unspecified development in Camden by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, using money left over from $6 million provided by the DRPA to tear down Riverfront State Prison in 2009.
$4 million: Cooper River rowing course improvements and other waterfront amenities planned by the Camden County parks department.
$2 million: student housing at Rutgers-Camden University.
$2 million: Food Bank of South Jersey.
$1 million: roadway improvements for an office, residential, and commercial development at the PATCO Ferry Avenue Station, near Lourdes Hospital.
$400,000: stabilization of Gloucester City's Freedom Pier.
The DRPA's new citizens advisory committee said it was "encouraged" that the plan returned some of the money to be used for future capital projects.
"Although it is not perfect, the CAC feels that this is a fair compromise," said chairman Sean Leonard. "The CAC hopes this puts an end to bridge and PATCO moneys being used for non-transit-related projects."
One of the proposed recipients of the money, the Food Bank of South Jersey, has been trying for two years to obtain the $2 million the DRPA board agreed in 2009 to give it.
"If the DRPA funding does come through, that would be wonderful and greatly needed because we're in a deficit funding situation right now," said food bank chief executive Valerie Brown Traore.
The DRPA finance committee will consider the economic-development spending as part of its review of the agency's proposed 2012 budget.
The committee will meet in public session at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in the boardroom of its One Port Center headquarters in Camden, next to the Adventure Aquarium.