Port Authority Budget, Toll Hikes, Bridge Scandal Top Monday Agenda

By David Cruz

Say what you will about efficiencies at the Port Authority, but when the bi-state agency implements a toll hike, it gets the job done. On this, the first weekday of the dollar cash toll increase, the special committee on investigations convened to release its interim report on last year’s lane closures. All this against the backdrop of the Port Authroity’s recently announced $7.8 billion budget.

“Right now, our only real recourse is to complain to the media because we can’t stop the Port Authority from writing checks anywhere for any purpose,” said Assemblywoman Amy Handlin.

The budget, which is up for a vote — and public comment — on Wednesday, includes items like:

$273 million for the Bayonne Bridge project

$260 million Lincoln Tunnel Helix overhaul

$38 million for improvements at the Port Authority Bus Terminal

$190 million for improvements to PATH station, and

$350 million for the World Trade Center Transportation Hub

The $350 million is part of $1.5 billion total being spent on the WTC site, which includes hundreds of millions to build the tower and customize retail spaces, just one of the expenditures that critics have questioned.

“I want to find out how it affects the bus terminal, what the timing is, and why so much of that money is going to the World Trade Center,” added Sen. Loretta Weinberg.

What’s paying for all this is PATH fares, which went up on October 1 and bridge and tunnel tolls, which went up a buck yesterday. Reaction from people who need to make the trip every day?

“I don’t think that it should be increased so frequently,” said cabbie Mohammad Zafullah. “There should be a long period of cap, so that people can relax.”

Van driver Olga Picado said motorists should consider driving into the city less. “It’s crazy. It’s too much,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. Maybe we cannot go to the city any more. I hope the people do that. Don’t go over there.”

Committee member say they’ve managed to shine a light on Port Authority practices which might otherwise not have been revealed. The hope now — they say — is that a reform bill — passed by the two state legislatures — will close the circle, assuming the governors cooperate.

“The reform piece has been there,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle. “This just highlights the urgency for both governors to sign it.”

No matter what you think of this scandal, this committee, or its report, it’s costing you a dollar more to get into the tunnel today, and this time next year, it’s going to cost you a dollar more.