The structure of the Port Authority toll and fare hikes isn’t all that complicated.
Where will most of the money come from?
Simple: New Jersey
And where will most of the money be spent?
Simple again: New York.
(If you want to get more specific the bulk of it will go to lower Manhattan for the new world trade center.)
Besides the Bernie Madoff magnitude of the increases, the lopsidedness of the deal should have been enough for Gov. Chris Christie to reject the Port Authority’s plan.
Instead, he and Gov. Andrew Cuomo came up with a modified version that phases in the increase over four years but does nothing to make the plan fairer to our state’s drivers and PATH riders.
New Jersey commuters aren’t exactly being shut out but they are being made the patsies.
Christie’s objections to the toll and fare hikes have nothing to do with the evenhandedness of the deal.
For one the governor has demonstrated a lack of concern for certain commuters — especially those heading into New York daily. (Remember last year’s NJ Transit fare increases were just fine with him.)
For another, Christie needs the Port Authority. His no gas tax increase vow depends on money from the authority to cover local road improvements. He needs the agency to look the other way and approve road projects that have absolutely nothing to do with the bi-state agency’s mission. (But more on that later. For now let’s concentrate on the raises.)
A glance at the numbers shows just how unfair this all is to those on this side of the Hudson.
The plan calls for drivers with E-ZPass to pay $1.50 more starting Sept. 18, bringing the toll to $9.50. That will be followed with annual increases of $ .75 until 2015 when the toll will reach $12.50. Those paying cash will have to shell out $12 next month and $15 by 2015.
The PATH fares will jump a quarter next month and then go up $.25 a year until 2014 when the one-way fare will be $2.75.
So who will be paying those increases?
It will be the drivers who last year made the 52 million crossings over the George Washington Bridge and the 16 million who used the Holland Tunnel and the 20 million who took the Lincoln and the 3.5 million who rode over the Bayonne Bridge and the 14 million who hopped on the Outer Bridge Crossing.
By the way, all numbers are for those heading eastbound.
PATH had an average of 246,000 weekday riders and a total of 73 million annual passenger trips.
As is obvious, most of those drivers were from New Jersey as were most of the PATH users.
So where does the money go.
In its announcement of the tolls and fare hikes, the Port Authority detailed some of its expenses as justification for the increase.
At the top of the list was the new world trade center getting $11 billion from the PA. Then there was increased security at its facilities, which the authority pegged at $6 billion. At least some of that money will be spent at Newark Liberty International Airport and for security on this side of the river.
There was some New Jersey spending. It’s a bit of a stretch but I guess replacing 592 suspension cables on the George Washington Bridge that will cost $1 billion and renovating the Lincoln Tunnel helix for $1.5 billion could count as partial Jersey projects.
Raising the Bayonne Bridge to make the port accessible by the new and bigger cargo ships will cost $1 billion and a new garage at the authority’s bus terminal will cost $800 million.
But some of those projects may never happen now. The authority is taking another look at its capital building list in light of the governors’ action.
So what’s that total? $4.3 billion.
And New York gets $11 billion just for the world trade center.
Of course New Jersey is getting a bit more than that out of the Port Authority and this is where Christie is beholding to the agency. The authority has agreed to help finance some purely local road construction. These projects have nothing to do with the port district or the agency.
The Pulaski Skyway, portions of Routes 1&9, the Route 7 Wittpenn Bridge over the Hackensack River are in line to get some $1.8 billion.
Those projects should be paid for by the state’s transportation trust fund but the fund is pretty much broke. Logically, the governor should increase the state gas tax — one of the lowest in the nation — to provide a stable revenue source for the fund.
But he’s a “no tax” guy and so he can’t. Instead he keeps shifting the burden to commuters — not all commuters just some of them.
He had no problem with the NJ Transit fare hikes last year and he has no problem with the Parkway and Turnpike toll hikes that go into effect in a few months. And now he has no problem with letting the trans Hudson commuters pay more.
Is such a policy fair? Hardly. But it allows him to continue with the charade that he’s not raising any taxes. It’s a game of semantics.
The Port Authority – and New Jerseyans using the bridges, tunnels and PATH — could easily become Christie’s piggy bank — one that he breaks into to cover project costs that the state should finance.
And when the Port Authority needs more money for its Manhattan real estate development projects or Christie’s local road repairs, it simply hits up New Jersey commuters. So the financial burden of maintaining the state’s roads falls on the toll payers rather than the taxpayers.
When commenting on the Port Authority hikes Christie said that if the cables on the GWB needed to be replaced somebody had to pay for them and it only made sense to have those who use the bridge pony up.
He’s right. But why should those same drivers pay for the Pulaski Skyway or the rebuilding of at Ground zero?
Josh McMahon is a former member of The Star-Ledger’s editorial board.