Judge mulling release of 2011 toll hike documents
NEW YORK (AP) -- An automobile association went back to court Wednesday to try and convince a judge to force the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to release internal documents that could shed light on the decision to raise tolls on bridges and tunnels in 2011.
The proceeding was the latest chapter in a three-year-old lawsuit filed by the American Automobile Associations of New York and North Jersey in response to the four-year, phased-in hikes. Cash tolls on the Port Authority-operated bridges and tunnels went from $8 to $12 in 2011 and will eventually reach $15 next year.
AAA claims in the suit that the increases violated federal law because they were to be used partly to cover redevelopment of the World Trade Center and weren't solely for transportation-related projects. They also claim the Port Authority changed its story after the lawsuit was filed when the agency said none of the revenues would be used for the trade center.
The Port Authority has claimed it has produced financial documents that show the hikes were needed for transportation-related capital projects.
In June, a U.S. magistrate denied the AAA's request for the Port Authority to release hundreds of documents related to the toll increases.
At Wednesday's hearing to appeal that decision, AAA attorney Kevin Mulry said that even if some of the documents weren't directly related to the decision to impose the hikes, they could "shed light on what the toll increases were to be used for" or whether any changes were considered.
An attorney for the Port Authority told Judge Richard Eaton that three years of legal filings and financial disclosures by the agency have shown that the AAA's position is "so far below the starting line for any claim here."
Eaton didn't say when he would rule on the matter.
The AAA sued unsuccessfully to have the toll increases rescinded in 2011. Last week, the association filed for a preliminary injunction to stop the next round of increases, which are scheduled for early December. That motion is pending.
A Government Accountability Office report issued last year criticized the Port Authority for not publishing a long-term capital plan that detailed the full uses of the toll increases and for not providing sufficient opportunity for the public to comment on the proposed hikes.
The Port Authority responded that it had amended its bylaws to give greater opportunity for public participation.