NEW YORK — The executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey defended the agency’s bridge and tunnel toll increases and said toll revenue is not being diverted to the over-budget World Trade Center rebuilding or other port authority real estate projects.
Patrick J. Foye, the port authority’s top executive, spoke in response to hostile questioning from Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., at a House Transportation and Infrastructure field hearing in New York on freight transportation in urban areas.
Grimm used Friday’s wide-ranging hearing to criticize the port authority’s steep increases in truck tolls since 2011. He accused the port authority of “gangster tactics” in negotiating a plan to provide New York Container Terminal with a break on bridge tolls.
NYCT and the port authority this week agreed on a lease extension that will halve bridge tolls from their current $12-per-axle level for trucks serving the Staten Island terminal, which is in Grimm’s district.
Grimm said the toll credits don’t go far enough. He complained that the bridge toll credits would be phased out after NYCT reaches 350,000 container lifts per year. That’s above the NYCT’s 130,000 lifts last year but far below the 550,000 lifts the terminal handled in 2008, before the toll increases began, or NYCT’s annual capacity of 670,000 lifts.
“You say you’re coming out with a toll-relief plan that’s the best thing since sliced bread, but it limits them at half of their capacity,” Grimm said. “The container terminal is on life support.”
Foye disagreed that the terminal is on life support, and said the toll credit agreement is “a fair deal.” He attempted to read a letter in which NYCT President Jim Devine explained the toll credits to customers and described the agreement as a positive development.
Grimm interrupted Foye twice, preventing him from quoting the letter. The congressman claimed terminal officials supported the deal because the port authority put “a gun to their head” by tying it to the terminal’s lease extension.
“As someone who investigated the Gambino crime family and the Mafia, I can tell you I know what Mafia tactics are and what gangster tactics are, and I don’t appreciate it and neither do they,” said Grimm, a former FBI agent.
“Well, congressman, if you have evidence of wrongdoing, you should go to the district attorney,” Foye replied.
Grimm and Foye also jousted over how the toll revenue is spent. Foye said the money is used only for the port authority’s bridges and tunnels, and to offset annual losses of $300 million for the agency’s PATH subway and $100 million for the port authority bus terminal in Manhattan.
“Bridge and tunnel revenue is dedicated to the bridges and tunnels, the PATH and the port authority bus terminal, period,” Foye said.
Gerard J. Coyle, vice president of flatbed and drayage carrier Evans Delivery, also discussed tolls during his testimony on behalf of the American Trucking Associations. Coyle said Evans pays $247 in tolls to haul a container on a round trip between Brooklyn, N.Y., and Philadelphia.
“These high toll costs — which do not exist anywhere else in the country — will be a serious consideration for businesses who are considering their future plans, including in those states served by the I-95 corridor which do not impose tolls,” he said.
Coyle cited a study that found the higher costs “put New York ports at a competitive disadvantage relative to other ports such as Norfolk and Baltimore, where the operating costs for trucks were less than half those of trucks serving New York ports.”