Democratic Lawmakers Call on Port Authority to Suspend Toll Hikes

In Fort Lee Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman and legislators from New Jersey’s 37th and 38th districts said the agency should delay further toll increases until it gets its finances in order and reforms its management.

U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) joined New Jersey Democratic lawmakers Wednesday at just south of the George Washington Bridge to call on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to suspend its scheduled toll hikes until an audit can be completed and reforms implemented. 

The event, which was held under a park pavilion instead of against the backdrop of the GWB because of rain, took place just days after Lautenberg, Rothman, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ) and U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) sent a letter to Port Authority Chairman David Samson requesting a delay in the next round of toll hikes scheduled to go into effect in December.

In Fort Lee Wednesday, Lautenberg called the increasing tolls “painful for the people of our state.”

“Now is not the time for another punishing round of toll hikes for the people of New Jersey,” Lautenberg said. “The current tolls here at the George Washington Bridge and other crossings are already hurting family budgets, and additional toll hikes would be a further blow to commuters and their families.”

He added, “New Jersey families shouldn’t be used as a first stop in the Port Authority’s attempt to balance their books.”

After raising cash tolls to $12 and E-ZPass tolls to $9.50 during peak hours in September 2011, the Port Authority has scheduled annual increases starting in December, when tolls are set to increase to $13 for those who pay with cash and $10.25 for E-ZPass customers. Under the Port Authority's plan, tolls would continue to increase each subsequent year and cost drivers as much as $15 by 2015.

Lautenberg challenged the Port Authority and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to stop what he called “the campaign against New Jersey commuters” and suspend further toll increases.

“Come home from far away places, Governor, get behind the desk and do what you have to do to make it easier for New Jersey residents to get along,” Lautenberg said.

State Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), who was joined Wednesday in Fort Lee by fellow state legislators Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37), Sen. Robert Gordon (D-38) and Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-38), estimated that over the course of a year, it costs New Jersey commuters $3,000 “just to drive to work because of the monumental toll hikes the Port Authority instituted last fall.”

“We are here today to tell the Port Authority that before New Jersey commuters are forced to pay a penny more, the Port Authority must reform its financial and management practices,” Huttle said.

Referring to an —the first phase of which was released in February, with the second phase expected to be released in June—that called the agency “challenged and dysfunctional,” Rothman criticized the Port Authority for a “lack of consistent leadership, a lack of cost controls and lack of transparency and efficient oversight” and said the proposed additional toll hikes are “wrong and underserved.”

“Local commuters here in New Jersey should not be on the hook for additional tolls when there is plenty of room for the Port Authority to find the money to balance its books without further burdening the already over-burdened New Jersey commuter,” Rothman said. “These toll increases must be suspended until the Port Authority fully addresses the problems identified by the audit and shows that the [agency] is even capable of getting its fiscal house in order.”

Weinberg said the Port Authority should “hold off” on further toll increases “until the word ‘dysfunction’ is taken away as a description of [the agency.]”

“The authority should use better judgment and suspend the new increases and concentrate on making needed reforms,” Weinberg said.

Keith Jensen May 03, 2012 at 06:09 AM
Sen Weinberg and Distinguished Gang. We would not be in this position if you took a stand when you were side-by-side with Gov Corzine. Please. Your partisan rhetoric is the pot calling the kettle black and that is why we are in the position we are in. I did not hear you at all during the Corzine administration when all of these board members of the Port Authority were making $300K a year, nor when you allowed us to continue making buildings (the WTC site) instead of focusing on just the bridge, tunnels and airports. Yet, here you are speaking about their salaries now. Where were you when you approved their initial salaries when Gov Christie was not in office? Oh that's right, in 2009 you were campaigning with Gov Corzine as his Lt Governor, so you were being a good soldier and rubber stamping all of the $300K salaries for the Port Authority appointed positions that you anointed. Consequently, you are the reason why we in NJ are in the fiscal position we are in now.I am happy you are finally standing up to this, but don’t make it political when you started it. Aside from curbing spending like this, you can also look out for every one of your school Districts inclusive of 85% of the State and push for fair school funding. This would no longer allow Hoboken to be considered poor and Hackensack to be considered rich. Ultimately, this could give every resident a 33% property tax cut. http://schoolfundingexposed.wordpress.com/ This goes for everyone in our legislature.
Ottmar Pak May 03, 2012 at 01:34 PM
How about an intelligent use of technology to identify and discount tolls for NJ registered vehicles? There must be enough out-of-state vehicles and commerce traffic to 'support' the bridge.
Al Norton May 04, 2012 at 12:52 AM
Although no fan of the morass known as the the Port Authority, Sen Lautenberg is not the person to lead the charge.The embarrasing relevation that our esteemed Senator took untold trips over the bridge at taxpayer expense reminds me of the scene from Casablanca, when being shocked and appalled after closing Rick's for gambling, Captain Renault is handed his winnings. Hey maybe we can do do Casablanca II in Fort Lee- stoking the Fort Lee Film commission buzz. Valerie Huttle has done a good job on PA and newsflash the problem is too big for one party rants.
Luca D. May 04, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Lautenberg could ask Governor Cuomo: Since the Port Authority commissioners are appointed by Governors from both NJ and NY, why doesn't our nutty professor Lautenberg call on his buddy Schumer to get Cuomo involved? If it wasn't a political stunt, these politicians could get the votes necessary to do what they want at PA. But they don't want to stop hikes, they want to publicize that Christie refuses to help them.
Judy May 06, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Lautenberg/Menedez/Corzine all handed out big salaries and benefits to those they appointed to the PA over many years. Now the bill has to be paid. Al is right to point out that Lautenberg is just as convincing as Captain Renault was, only this situation is not fiction.


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