U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ), and members of the New Jersey state legislature today joined together at the George Washington Bridge to urge the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to suspend scheduled toll hikes until an audit is completed and reforms are put in place.
Today's press conference followed a letter that Lautenberg and U.S. Reps. Rothman, Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), and Albio Sires (D-NJ) sent to David Samson, Chairman of the Port Authority, last week regarding the scheduled toll hikes. Letters from Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Assemblyman John Wisniewski, Chairman of the Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee, were also sent this week. Speaker Oliver's letter can be found here. Assemblyman Wisniewski's letter can be found here.
"We stand here today with a simple message for Governor Christie and the Port Authority: suspend the next round of toll hikes and stop punishing New Jersey commuters," stated Lautenberg. "New Jersey commuters shouldn't continue to pay the price for the Port Authority's dysfunction."
"The toll hike proposal by the Port Authority is wrong and undeserved. Local commuters can't afford to be footing the bill for years of mismanagement and cost overruns by the Port Authority," said Congressman Rothman. "Before the Port Authority asks the already overburdened local commuters to pay this unprecedentedly high toll, Port Authority leadership must get their house in order."
"Commuters have already been hit with toll increases by the Port Authority that force motorists to pay unreasonably high fees at a time when most people are struggling to manage expenses," said state Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-37). "The Port Authority now plans to impose additional toll increases without making the needed reforms to their operations that were identified by an audit that found a dysfunctional organization with a lack of cost controls and effective oversight. The authority should use better judgment and suspend the new increases and concentrate on making needed reforms."
"For the past year, I have called on the Port Authority to come out of the shadows and be more transparent and accountable to the public," said state Senator Robert Gordon (D-38). "Pressure from toll-payers has finally forced the Port Authority to re-examine its wasteful practices. However, more concrete action must be taken to improve the way this organization manages our money."
"Before New Jersey commuters are forced to pay a penny more, the Port Authority must reform its financial and management practices," said state Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37). "It is time for the agency to stop hiding behind political rhetoric and start acting in the best interest of toll payers."
After raising tolls to unprecedented levels last year, the Port Authority has scheduled annual increases through 2015, beginning with an increase in December 2012 that would bring tolls to $13, and $10.25 with EZ-Pass, during peak hours. Under the Port Authority's plan, tolls would continue to increase each year, and cost commuters up to $15 by 2015.
A recent external audit of the Port Authority found that the organization is "challenged and dysfunctional." The first phase of the audit was released in February, and the second phase will be released in June.