Friday, September 16, 2011

AAA Looks To Block Port Authority Toll and Fare Hikes

The New York affiliate of AAA, which is one of the largest membership groups in the country, is looking to Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to block the Port Authority's massive toll hikes that are scheduled to take effect this weekend.

The group thinks that it might be able to sway LaHood and the Port Authority because some of the funds raised from the toll hikes are going to the World Trade Center rebuilding efforts, and not to transportation infrastructure which is required under a 1989 law.
The auto club's New York, New Jersey, and Mid-Atlantic chapters says a federal court ruled in 1989 that tolls must be used to pay for facilities that have a close and functional relationship with bridges and tunnels, and that should not include rebuilding at the World Trade Center.

"We think that increasing tolls to pay for cost overruns at the World Trade Center violates that legal decision and will impede interstate commerce, and establish and new and ill-conceived policy of diverting toll revenues to local real estate development projects," said Robert Sinclair Jr. of AAA New York.

However, AAA has not pursued any legal action to block the Port Authority's toll hikes.

Starting Sunday, cash tolls on the George Washington Bridge, Holland Tunnel, Lincoln Tunnel, Goethals Bridge, Bayonne Bride and Outerbridge Crossing are scheduled to rise from $8 to $12.

Peak-hour tolls for E-ZPass users will go from $8 to $9.50.

Tolls are set to rise to $15 by December 2015 after a series of increases.

PATH fares will increase Sunday from $1.75 to $2.
The strongest argument to block the toll hikes is that the massive hikes, particularly on truck traffic, is a violation of the Commerce Clause and impedes interstate commerce.

However, the agency can argue that the tolls are supporting major infrastructure improvements, including a rebuilding of the Lincoln Tunnel helix, replacement of hangers on the George Washington Bridge, completion of the PATH terminal at WTC, and raising the Bayonne Bridge for improved port access.

The thing is that the argument about the Port Authority being in the real estate business is one of the drivers that got Larry Silverstein into the whole WTC rebuilding effort; the Port Authority was looking to get out of the real estate business when it agreed to give Silverstein a 99 year lease on the WTC property just months before the 9/11 attacks.

The Port Authority shouldn't be in the real estate business and it should be focused exclusively on improving port access, transportation, and infrastructure.

For its part, the AAA has not brought a legal action against the Port Authority to block the imposition of the fare and toll hike.

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