Pennsylvania bill would reform Delaware River toll commission

March 31, 2021

Keith Goble

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A Pennsylvania bill on the move is intended to clear up inconsistencies in laws governing operation of the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission.

The agency maintains and operates eight toll bridges and 12 free bridges connecting New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The joint commission is made up of 10 commissioners, with five from each state.

Making changes to how the commission is run is not a simple process. Because the agency is set up by a federal charter, identical legislation must be enacted in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and approved by the federal government.

The Pennsylvania House Transportation Committee has voted to advance a three-part bill to implement greater state oversight of the commission.

Delaware River toll rate hikes

The legislative action preceded a commission announcement this week that rate increases would take effect April 11. The agency announced in February plans for the toll increases.

Commission officials cite the pandemic for toll revenue declines that necessitate rate hikes.

Specifically, vehicles soon will pay $4.50 per axle for E-ZPass. Affected vehicles paying with cash/toll-by-plate will pay $5 per axle.

Additionally, the 10% off-peak discount for commercial vehicles will be eliminated as soon as April 3.

More oversight pursued

A bill headed to the Pennsylvania House floor would implement greater state oversight of the commission.

It is not the first time the effort has been considered in the General Assembly. In recent years, House lawmakers twice voted in support of additional oversight of the commission.

This year’s version is the same as previous versions. There would be a requirement for the minutes of every commission meeting to be delivered to the governor. The commission would be forbidden from taking action until the minutes are approved by the governor, or for a period of 10 days.

Another provision in HB607 would grant the Pennsylvania governor veto power over actions of the state’s commissioners.

Rep. Joe Emrick, R-Nazareth, says gubernatorial power over commissioners actions would allow unwarranted toll increases to be thwarted.

“I believe the governor of Pennsylvania should also have the authority to review and veto actions of Pennsylvania commissioners that do not serve the best interests of Pennsylvania residents,” Emrick wrote to House members in a memo.

A third provision would require an annual financial and management audit of the commission by Pennsylvania’s auditor general and his New Jersey counterpart.

New Jersey already has the rules in place.

Emrick says there is a genuine need for greater state oversight of the agency.

“Historically, the commission has been a bastion of political patronage, and many of its financial and management decisions have been questionable at best,” Emrick stated. LL

More Land Line coverage of news from Pennsylvania.

 

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Keith Goble

Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.