NYC Toll Increase Riles Trucking Group, Commuters

The board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey agreed Aug. 19 to a two-step increase in bridge and tunnel fares that is smaller than originally proposed, but still a 56 percent increase over five years. The American Trucking Associations is trying to stop it.

The board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey agreed Aug. 19 to a two-step increase in bridge and tunnel fares that is smaller than originally proposed, but still an increase of as much as 182 percent over five years for trucks, according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), which has not conceded and is trying to stop it. Commuters who use the bridges and tunnels regularly are posting comments expressing their outrage on a variety of blogs.

The recession's effect on revenues is one reason for raising the tolls, according to the authority, which also cited the need to complete the World Trade Center rebuild, on which it is spending $11 billion.

ATA President and CEO Bill Graves wrote a letter Aug. 25 asking Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, who appoint the authority's board, to reconsider what Graves called an "ill-conceived and unprecedented" toll hike. "We urge you to veto this proposal, which will not only devastate trucking companies who serve the New York City area, but will also increase the cost of doing business in a region already regarded as among the most expensive in the nation," Graves wrote. He said ATA and the state trucking associations in New York and New Jersey strongly oppose a plan where "a majority of new revenues will subsidize projects with no benefit to those paying the tolls."

Graves said the proposed tolls for five-axle trucks will be nearly three times higher than for comparable bridges nationwide, and if Maryland's proposed increases are implemented, tolls for a truck hauling goods from Baltimore to Manhattan will rise from $114.25 today to $209.25 within three years. "If the proposal is approved, ATA will be compelled to consider its legal and legislative options," Graves added.

After the board's vote in favor, authority Chairman David Samson said the added revenue is vital to the agency. "The attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, the 10th anniversary of which we will commemorate in three weeks, showed us that we need to strengthen our security at all Port Authority facilities to ensure that our passengers, our employees, and the public are safe from terrorist attacks. Those improvements in security for our facilities alone have added costs of more than $6 billion over the past 10 years," Samson said. "We are also rebuilding the World Trade Center site as a symbol of our nation’s success, strength and resilience, and as an economic force for the New York/New Jersey region. Of course, it is our moral obligation to the families of the victims lost that day that we rebuild, and we have committed more than $11 billion for the project.

"So, it is the impact of those three factors: a slowed economy; the commitment to rebuild the World Trade Center site and our other infrastructure investments; and our responsibility to provide security for our travelers, our customers, and our commuters -- all three factors have placed us in today's financial situation."

Besides the WTC site and its costs, the authroity is investing $1 billion to raise the roadway of the Bayonne Bridge in anticipation of the widening of the Panama Canal and must invest to upgrade the ports' ability to handle the largest cargo vessels, he said. The agency also is spending (with private-sector participation) $1.5 billion on rebuilding the Goethals Bridge, and more than $100 million in rehabilitating the entrance helix to the Lincoln Tunnel, which serves 40 million vehicles a year. Another $700 million will be spent to replace the suspension cables on the 80-year old George Washington Bridge. "It is essential that these cables be replaced," Samson said.

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