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Commuters sound off at Port Authority on toll hikes

August 16, 2011 7:34:09 PM PDT
Representatives from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are getting an earful Tuesday from commuters at eight meetings about proposed fare hikes.

Three days before the vote, the Port Authority got a taste of some of the opposition to the toll hikes.

"Stop picking our pockets," said one person in attendance.

Staten Island residents and others packed the auditorium, some angry, but many frustrated with a plan that they believe asks for money that they don't have.

The Port Authority has proposed increasing tolls from $8 to $12 dollars for drivers who use E-ZPass during peak hours..

Drivers who pay with cash would fork over $15.

The Port Authority has tied the toll hikes to infrastructure improvements and jobs.

They warn that if the increase doesn't go through jobs will be on the line.

That's why union members have packed the hearings wearing orange shirts.

They are arguing in favor of the toll increases, and at times clashed with commuters.

For more information, visit PANYNJ.gov.

The Port Authority released the following statement about the hikes and meetings:

We will be conducting hearings on the Port Authority's proposed toll and fare increase to address an immediate financial need that, if not addressed, would hinder our ability to continue work on current projects, including the completion of the World Trade Center site, as well as fund a new, ten-year multi-billion capital investment plan to repair and replace an aging transportation infrastructure that forms the backbone of the region's economy.

The Port Authority relies on the toll and fare box as the primary way in which the agency funds its interstate transportation program. As a result of the historic economic recession, those funds declined sharply from the original projections on which our capital plan was based. Combine that decline with the tripling of security costs since 9/11, necessary costs to rebuild the World Trade Center, the need to replace two of the agency's bridges over the next ten years, and rehabilitations of key infrastructure components including the Lincoln Tunnel and George Washington Bridge, and the case for our proposed toll and fare increase becomes clear.

We recognize that the proposed increase is substantial, but it is also absolutely necessary to ensure the financial strength of the Port Authority and to maintain and grow the critical transportation infrastructure that serves the bi-state region.

That is why we continue to stand by our proposal of a phased $4 and $2 increase in 2011 and 2014 respectively. This proposed increase will enable us to complete current projects and execute a $33 billion capital plan that will meet the critical and growing transportation needs of the region while generating 167,000 jobs and $9.7 billion in wages at a time when our economy desperately needs an economic engine. Without this increase now, construction of the World Trade Center site could slow or stop. This is why numerous groups representing workers, businesses, environmentalists and transportation advocates have endorsed our plan.

The Port Authority's proposal is now before the public for review. We look forward to the public hearing process as we continue to make the case for an increase that we firmly believe is necessary to drive this region forward.

Finally, we understand that both Governors have raised concerns about the extent of the proposed increases and we will continue to examine all possible funding and rate increase scenarios. We had considered lesser increases. For example, we had analyzed and discussed $2 in 2011 and $2 in 2014 respectively; however, we concluded that the two $2 increases would not provide reasonable assurance that we would not have to go through another toll and fare hike process in the near future.

This has become even more clear as the economy remains unstable. No one wants to enact toll increases twice, but a predictable, not volatile, plan for revenue is in the interest of a rational plan for infrastructure investment.

We look forward to discussing the proposal in detail with the Governors of both states after the public hearing process.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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