A coordinated effort is underway between lawmakers in Albany and Trenton, N.J. to impose greater accountability on the Port Authority, in response to toll hikes last summer and a recent audit of the agency. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.
Long before Port Authority toll raises were approved, there were concerns about cost overruns at the World Trade Center site, where the agency has made significant public investment.
The toll hikes, first presented last summer, took effect in September. Non E-ZPass drivers saw a 50-percent increase at the Hudson River crossings and the Staten Island bridges.
"We think they should refocus on the core mission which are the bridges and the ports. And they should stop treating the riders and commuters and the Staten Island residents and New Jersey residents as cash registers," said Republican State Senator Andrew Lanza of Staten Island.
After the toll hikes, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called for an audit of how the Port Authority conducts business. The audit found that the agency was "dysfunctional" with "insufficient cost controls" and "poorly coordinated planning." Moreover, fears about cost overruns at the World Trade Center site were confirmed.
The Port Authority is a bi-state agency, so action is needed in both the New York and New Jersey governments to effectuate any substantive change. Simultaneously, bills are moving through the New Jersey Legislature, having passed both the Assembly and Senate Transportation committees.
"We're carrying identical legislation in both states and the message to the Port Authority is you can continue to run but you can no longer hide," said Lanza.
The legislation in both states has bipartisan sponsorship. Staten Island Democrat Michael Cusick is the sponsor of the legislation in the New York State Assembly.
"We want to show the people that we can get control of a big organization like the Port Authority," said Cusick.
In a statement, Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni says, "The Port Authority has undertaken a serious self-examination of its practices and policies and has committed to greater and more appropriate transparency and accountability. I believe working together, rather than by subpoena, will be more productive."
Lanza's legislation has passed committee and could be up for a vote by the full State Senate next week.
By Zach Fink