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Queens Chronicle

Port Authority toll hikes approved

Cuomo, Christie reduce highest rates, call for financial reforms

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Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 1:20 pm, Thu Sep 1, 2011.

In agreeing to toll and fare increases proposed by the Port Authority last week, Govs. Cuomo of New York and Christie of New Jersey said they would demand greater accountability, financial review and oversight of PA money in return.

But neither governor would comment on just how much authority they have to compel the PA’s board of commissioners to follow their demands.

The commissioners on Friday voted in smaller increases than those proffered in public hearings on Aug. 16, but the new rates, beginning next month, still will be significantly higher.

Cars using EZ-Passes in off-peak hours will go from $6 to $7.50 effective in September, and will rise 75 cents each year through 2015. Cash customers will receive the same increase, plus a $2 penalty.

Peak charges will rise to $9.50 in September and hit $12.50 in December 2015.

Peak charges for tractor trailers using EZ-Pass will jump to $50 on Sept. 18 and rise to $90 by December 2015. Truck drivers paying cash will see increases to $65 on Sept. 18, with annual increases reaching to $105 in December 2015.

Fares for PATH trains from New Jersey, now at $1.75, will increase 25 cents per year for the next four years.

All classes of vehicles will receive discounts for using EZ-Pass and for making off-peak or overnight crossings, something trucking industry advocates says is unrealistic for most of their members, who already have been hit with fuel increases and the recession since 2008.

“This will be devastating for small carriers,” said Kendra Adams of the New York State Motor Truck Association. We’ve seen a record number of companies close their doors, and to hit them with these increases is absurd.”

Adams also said consumers can expect to dig deeper at grocery and retail stores.

“Trucks handle over 90 percent of the freight going into New York City,” she said. “Even things that come by shipping containers or rail go on a truck for final delivery. And if that truck uses a Port Authority crossing that cost is going to be passed on. Food, clothing, medical supplies and construction materials all are going to be more expensive.”

The PA said the increase will allow it to pursue a 10-year, $25.1 billion capital improvement plan that will mean 131,000 jobs to the region.

In a joint letter, Cuomo and Christie said the initial toll and fare hike package, some fees rising 67 percent or more, “was unacceptable and we would not approve it ... While we did not want to see any toll increase, given the crisis facing the Port Authority and its finances, and the potential safety and economic risks to commuters and businesses an increase could not be avoided.”

The governors’ letter said their own review was able to find $5 billion in savings from the original $33.1 billion plan.

The letter did not specifically address the $2 billion in cost overruns at the World Trade Center site, nor a recent report by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli that said overtime “flowed like water” last year at the Port Authority for $86 million.

The letter said they are “demanding accountability, reviewing and improving” internal financial tracking ... protecting the value of every dollar paid into the Port Authority.

They also said the authority must, as a condition of approval for the toll hikes, “need to approve and immediately commence a comprehensive audit” but did not say whether the audit would be conducted by an outside firm or done internally with PA financial personnel.

Nor did it say whether or not the governors could actually compel the authority to do either one.

A Christie spokesman said “it is the governor’s understanding that it will be an external audit.”

A PA spokesman said details of any audit “are still to be determined.” Cuomo’s office did not return calls.

Welcome to the discussion.