NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – An independent audit says the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey must raise tolls to maintain its transportation infrastructure and fund capital projects.
The findings of two consultants, who were hired to review the bistate agency, was released Wednesday one year after the Port Authority increased tolls on its Hudson River crossings.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered the audit as a condition of the toll increases.
Both reports found that toll hikes at the agency’s bridges and tunnels over the next three years “are necessary to meet the funding requirements of the Port Authority’s Preliminary 2011-2020 Capital Plan” and will be “critical to maintain ongoing transportation infrastructure in a ‘state of good repair.’”
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But the American Automobile Association claims revenue from the toll increase is going toward real estate projects like the World Trade Center and is not being used for maintenance projects.
“This is probably the most draconian, anti-motorist environment in the entire county,” said Robert Sinclair with AAA New York. “Between gasoline prices, taxes on gasoline, fees and surcharges on tickets on top of tolls, it just goes on and on.”
“We find it inconceivable that they cannot be using any of that money for the World Trade Center,” Sinclair said. ”Rather than coming forward with the documentation that we’ve asked for, they’re hiring more lawyers.”
AAA filed a lawsuit last year calling the increases “unprecedented and unlawful.”
The key to the federal court challenge centers on the Port Authority’s admission in a press release last year that it needed more toll money for, among other projects, completion of the World Trade Center. That would be a violation of federal law, according to the suit.
The Port Authority has since denied saying toll money is paying for the Trade Center, CBS 2′s Steve Langford reported.
At a news conference Wednesday, AAA displayed a chart showing Port Authority spending at the World Trade Center dwarfed all other expenditures in recent years.
“More than ever, tolls on the northeast corridors’ busiest interstate transportation facilities should not be diverted to unrelated and speculative projects,” AAA said in a statement.
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The Port Authority, however, has stuck by the hikes.
“I wouldn’t have voted for the toll increase last August if I didn’t think it was necessary and appropriate,” said Port Authority Chairman David Samson.
Under the current Port Authority plan, four more hikes are in place. The next one is set for December 2 when the EZ-Pass toll will go up to $10.25. By 2015, EZ-Pass prices will be $12.50.
Some drivers said the cost to go over a bridge is outrageous.
“It’s atrocious. It’s making it impossible, it’s a tax we can’t afford,” one woman told Langford. “I’d be up for a good protest,” said another driver.
“At the end of all of these series of toll hikes in 2015, if they are allowed to stand — and I hope they wont be — an 18-wheel truck will be paying $105 to cross one of their facilities,” said Sinclair. “We think that’s outrageous.”
Sinclair said federal oversight of the agency is needed.
“We think that federal oversight should be restored as it once was back in the 1980s to the federal government,” he said. “There is a terrible trickle down, when they because of their financial mismanagement, imposed tolls on people coming to and through our region.”
Wednesday’s report of the agency says the Port Authority is making significant reforms and has improved transparency and communication.
“The old way of doing business at the Port Authority is over,” Port Authority Vice Chairman Scott Rechler said in a statement. “We’ve already implemented key steps that allow us to do the public’s business better and we will continue to advance the recommendations in these reports to move ahead aggressively with our reform while focusing on job growth and the economic well-being of the region.”
It also said the Port Authority’s communication on costs for the World Trade Center site has “vastly improved.”
The auditor’s first report earlier this year called the agency “dysfunctional and challenged.”
(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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