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Transportation Officials Warn U.S. Senate About NJ Toll Hikes

How are toll hikes affecting the nation’s roads? That was the topic of a U.S. Senate hearing today in Washington, chaired by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).

Flickr User, Dr Bert Delgado

Today in testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, NFI Chief Financial Officer Steve Grabell warned that rapidly increasing toll rates, as well as the spread of tolls across the transportation system, are a threat to consumers and to the trucking industry.

“I am deeply concerned about the significant increases in toll costs that have been imposed on NFI and other trucking companies over the past few years,” Grabell, testifying on behalf of American Trucking Associations, said during a hearing of the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security.

Grabell told the Committee’s chairman, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and other members that in 2011 alone the Cherry Hill, N.J., carrier paid $14 million in tolls.

“These added costs have forced us to re-route our trucks to less efficient secondary roads, which raises our costs and increases congestion and safety concerns,” he said. “In addition to the impact increased tolls have on logistics providers, the added costs associated with toll increases filter down to the consumer and affect business decisions regarding hiring and facility location and expansion.”

But Chairman Lautenberg said New Jersey/New York Port Authority Chairman Bill Baroni called $12 tolls on drivers are “fair” and repeatedly refused to answer questions about when Governor Christie became aware of proposed toll increases.

“We called this hearing to help New Jersey drivers understand the reasons behind these massive toll increases and what steps the Port Authority is going to take to fix their serious problems,” said Sen. Lautenberg.

“Instead, Mr. Baroni engaged in distraction, deception and diversion. Despite this stonewalling, I will continue to stand up for New Jersey commuters and businesses.”

After the hearing, a Christie  spokesman said during his questioning of Bill Baroni, Lautenberg didn’t want to hear anything about the past at the Port Authority, even though the building blocks of the agency’s dysfunction and fiscal problems were years in the making, calling the hearing nothing but a partisan charade.

Lautenberg cut off Mr. Baroni’s discussion of EZ Pass discounts available to motorists and the Senator’s free privileges. “Certainly Senator,” Mr. Baroni replied, “it is impossible to argue fairness in tolls when you don’t pay them.”

“Senator Lautenberg is deluding himself if he actually believes the practices he oversaw, participated in and encouraged during his time as a commissioner with the Port Authority are not relevant in explaining the Port Authority inherited by Governors Cuomo and Christie” said Michael Drewniak, press secretary of Governor Christie.

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