NEW YORK – The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced plans for major increases in PATH train fares and tolls to cross between New York and New Jersey last week.
The higher fees, which nearly double what commuters pay now, are not being embraced by politicians from either party.
In a joint statement, Republican Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, expressed concerns about the proposal. “The Port Authority is facing financial issues but so are families in the states of New York and New Jersey, and the answer cannot always be an indiscriminate and exorbitant increase in the cost to the taxpayer, or in this case, toll payer,” they said. “As families must carefully and effectively manage their finances at this difficult time, so must government.”
The agency says the hikes are needed to fully-fund a $33 billion ten-year capital plan, which it says will generate 167,000 jobs. The Port Authority blamed decreased revenue caused by the recession, higher than expected costs to rebuild the World Trade Center and steep post-9/11 security costs.
The higher tolls would take effect in September: autos using E-ZPass on the Port Authority’s crossings would see tolls increase from $6 to $10 roundtrip for off-peak travel and from $8 to $12 in peak hours. An additional $2 increase during peak and off-peak hours would be implemented in 2014. The cash rate would go from $8 to $15 in 2011 and would increase by an additional $2 in 2014.
Truck tolls per axle using E-ZPass off-peak would increase from $7 to $13 roundtrip and peak from $8 to $14, with an additional $2 per-axle-increase in 2014 for both off-peak and peak hours. A similar cash surcharge of $3 per axle will be applied to trucks in 2011 that continue to use the optional cash system with an additional $2 per axle in 2014.
The base PATH fare would increase from $1.75 to $2.75 in September. The 30-day unlimited pass will increase to $89 from $54. The Port Authority plans to direct 100 percent of the revenue from the proposed PATH fare increase back into the PATH system to complete projects that will replace 340 PATH cars, replace the 100-year-old signal system and duct bank network, upgrade PATH security with tunnel hardening and flood mitigation measures, and rehabilitate the system’s aging stations, including new 10-car platforms.
Other projects contingent on the proposed toll/fare plan include:
- The first replacement of all 592 suspender ropes at the 80-year old George Washington Bridge, the world’s busiest crossing, joining other suspension bridges like the Golden Gate and RFK, which have already replaced theirs. ($1 billion)
- The replacement of the Lincoln Tunnel Helix. It will require major lane closures and load restrictions if not replaced. ($1.5 billion)
- The raising of the Bayonne Bridge, which will solve the current clearance problem, preventing post-PANAMAX ships from accessing key ports. ($1 billion)
- A new bus garage connected to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, which will serve as a traffic reliever to the Lincoln Tunnel and midtown Manhattan streets, saving two-thirds of the empty bus trips that must make two extra trips through the tunnel each day. ($800 million)
- Significant security investments at the region’s airports, including the installation of security barriers. ($360 million)
Before the Board of Commissioners considers a final toll/fare plan at a Board meeting on August 19, the agency has announced a public hearing schedule on Aug. 16 with nine total hearings across both states. Public hearings will be held at:
- Newark Liberty International Airport, 1 Conrad Road, Building 157, Bay 3, Newark at 8 a.m.
- Port Authority Technical Center, 241 Erie Street, Room 212, Jersey City at 8 a.m.
- Port Ivory/Howland Hook, 40 Western Ave., Staten Island, N.Y. at 8 a.m.
- and online at www.panynj.gov at 2 p.m.
While a variety of labor unions and transportation groups have announced their support for the plan, it is not popular in all quarters.
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) said that the Port Authority’s proposal was “outrageous” and characterized it as “another assault on New Jersey’s commuters.” “Even toll increases half of this size would be unacceptable,” he said.
“At a time when people are hurting and the economy is shaky this increase will not only hurt people’s wallets, but also hurt our economy. This increase will actually hurt the ability for working people to get to their jobs in Manhattan and New York,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It will hurt businesses that are trying to attract new employees as the cost of commuting will go up. This increase is a job killer as well as a rip off to commuters.”
“A 50 percent toll increase and a $1 fare increase is simply too much for working families and small businesses in these hard economic times. I call on Gov. Christie to veto this proposal and have the Port Authority come back with more reasonable options,” said U.S. Sen Bob Menendez (D-NJ.)
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