NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A new government report has faulted the way the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey implemented toll increases two years ago, saying the agency didn’t give the public adequate reasons for the increases or enough time to comment on the proposals.
The report released Friday by the Government Accountability Office reviewed the Port Authority and three other bi-state agencies in the area that operate interstate tolling facilities. It noted that bi-state agencies are not bound by the same rules that apply to agencies that are governed by one state when it comes to public notification and review.
The Port Authority began a series of toll increases at its four bridges and two tunnels connecting New Jersey and New York in 2011 after much controversy.
Cash tolls on the crossings increased from $8 to $12 in 2011, and are scheduled to rise to $15 by 2015. The agency had originally proposed even steeper increases, but was forced to scale back after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie threatened to veto them.
The Port Authority held public hearings on the increases but they were too few and too close to the vote, the GAO report concluded.
“The PANYNJ held 10 hearings in various locations for its proposed 2011 toll increase, including an online forum,” according to the GAO report. “However, because those hearings were held in a single day — and only 3 days prior to the board of commissioners’ vote to approve toll increases — we believe that the accelerated schedule did not provide sufficient, convenient and accessible opportunities for the public to comment on the proposal.”
The report also found that the Port Authority “had not made a long-term capital plan available to the public detailing the full uses of the proposed toll and fare increases for the public to review.”
In comments included in the report, the Port Authority said it followed agency policy for public involvement and disagreed with the report’s conclusion that it failed to give adequate time for public comment.
In an emailed statement Saturday, the agency said it amended its bylaws last year to allow for greater opportunities for public participation and said it is “committed to utilizing every single toll and fare dollar to make critical infrastructure improvements and state-of-good repair work as well as to continuing our longstanding policy of engaging the public in decisions affecting tolls and fares on our interstate transportation network.”
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