New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has vetoed the Delaware Memorial Bridge toll increase which would have taken effect March 1.
Delaware River and Bay Authority (DRBA) officials say they learned Wednesday that Murphy had vetoed the DRBA Commission's resolution approving a new toll schedule.
"The organization is deeply concerned about the harmful impact the lack of additional revenue will have on the DRBA’s CIP (capital improvement plan) at all of its transportation facilities this year and in the years to follow," DRBA spokesman Jim Salmon said in a statement.
The new toll schedule would have set the rate for passenger cars and small trucks at $5, an increase of $1 over the current rate. Commercial vehicles would have payed $2 more per axle. Changes were also planned to the commuter and frequent traveler programs.
But the board action to approve the increase was subject to the New Jersey and Delaware governors’ ten day review and consent period. NJ Advance Media reported that last month Murphy also vetoed meeting minutes of the South Jersey Port Corporation, for the third time this year. Politico reported that as of September 2018, Murphy's vetoes were outpacing the last five New Jersey governors combined.
The Delaware Memorial Bridge toll increases were expected to generate about $34 million in additional annual revenue. Officials said this money would fund a $440 million capital improvement program.
DRBA Chairman James Hogan characterized the toll increase as essential in a statement released after the December board meeting. “Over the next five years, the DRBA will need to make significant infrastructure investments at the bridge that are both expensive and necessary to ensure public safety and uninterrupted traffic flow," he said.
Planned improvement projects included bridge paint recoating, suspension rope replacement, bridge steelwork repairs and a ship collision protection system, according to authorities.
"Without the additional revenue that comes with a toll increase, many infrastructure investment projects, including some at the Delaware Memorial Bridge, will be delayed or postponed indefinitely until the resources necessary to fund them are available," said Salmon in a statement following Gov. Murphy's veto.
Salmon says absent a toll increase, DRBA will prioritize bridge painting and steel work over other projects. He notes without a toll increase, DRBA has roughly $25 million of annual revenue.
In his letter to DRBA, Murphy wrote that he vetoed the toll increase in part because it would fund projects not only at the bridge, but at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry and the airports the Authority operates as well.
Salmon says toll revenue from one piece of infrastructure helping fund other infrastructure in the network is common practice in the industry. “It is done with PATCO up to the north by the Delaware Port Authority, it is done by the state of New Jersey with New Jersey Transit, and it is done with the PATH transit network," he said.
Delaware Gov. John Carney released a statement calling this “latest setback” to the infrastructure improvements at the Delaware Memorial Bridge concerning. A spokesperson for Gov. Carney says he has since spoken with Gov. Murphy, and the two have agreed to meet with DRBA to find a “speedy resolution.”
"The Authority’s leadership is committed to meeting its fiduciary responsibilities and resolving any misunderstandings with open and honest communications," said Salmon.
The DRBA held public hearings last month in Delaware and New Jersey about the proposed toll increases. DRBA Executive Director Tom Cook said in a statement that the toll increases approved by the Board reflected changes made to the commuter and frequent user plans in response to public input.
This story has been updated.