Lautenberg Intros Bill To Return Federal Oversight To Unjust Toll Hikes

Sen. Frank Lautenberg

WASHINGTON, D.C. —With recent toll hikes and allegations of lack of accountability and fiscal mismanagement at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm (R- N.Y.) today announced the Commuter Protection Act that would restore the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) ability to determine whether toll hikes are fair to drivers and to give the Department authority to prescribe more reasonable tolls.

Lautenberg, who chairs the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation that has jurisdiction over interstate transportation policy issues, said, “When it costs $12 to drive your car across a bridge in America, something is wrong. While the Port Authority and the two states are struggling to explain why these dramatic hikes were imposed, commuters are suffering. There’s a clear need for federal oversight here to make sure toll revenue is being used appropriately and not going to fund excessive salaries or political patronage jobs. Given these out of control toll hikes and the cloud of misinformation surrounding them, these federal protections for commuters need to be restored.”

Grimm said, “This bipartisan legislation brings oversight of toll rates on our nation’s federally funded highway system back into the Department of Transportation where it belongs. The Port Authority has reaped the benefit from nearly unchecked control in deciding how much is ‘just and reasonable’ for commuters travelling on the federal highway system to pay. The taxpayers of New York and New Jersey shouldn’t have to face such a harsh economic burden simply to shovel billions of dollars in toll revenue into the debt-stricken and mismanaged PA. With almost no return on transportation infrastructure or mass transit for commuters it is as clear as daylight that there is little to no oversight on how or where the money is spent. I applaud Sen. Lautenberg for joining me in introducing this important legislation.”

The Commuter Protection Act would restore USDOT’s ability to determine whether tolls on bridges and tunnels imposed by toll authorities are “just and reasonable.” Up until 1987, USDOT had the authority to determine whether any tolls charged to drivers were “just and reasonable” upon a complaint. Under the legislation, if the tolls were deemed unfair, the secretary could prescribe a more reasonable maximum toll that could be charged.

The bill would also require Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on and make recommendations for increasing the transparency and accountability of tolling authority budget practices.

On Aug. 19 the Port Authority approved an increase in toll hikes that will raise tolls for cars between New Jersey and New York from $8 to $15 by 2015. For cars with E-Z Pass, the toll will be raised from $8 to $12.50 over the same period of time. Five-axle trucks that currently pay $40 dollars will have to pay up to $125 by 2015.

The legislation has already drawn support from AAA New York, and AAA Clubs of New Jersey, the American Trucking Association, the American Highway Users Alliance, the American Motorcyclist Association and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association

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