A recent report by the Government Accountability Office report on bi-state tolling authorities that control some of the nation’s most heavily travelled routes, could set the stage for federal oversight of these groups, including when it comes to setting toll rates.
The federal watchdog agency says the report, entitled “Interstate Compacts: Transparency and Oversight of Bi-state Tolling Authorities Could be Enhanced,” was performed as bi-state tolling authorities have come under scrutiny for toll increases and other concerns, and it was asked to review their toll-setting decisions and oversight framework.
GAO found these tolling authorities have broad authority to set toll rates and use revenues for a range of purposes, but “a federal statute requiring bridge tolls to be ‘just and reasonable’ has less influence on tolling decisions, in part, because no federal agency has authority to enforce the standard.”
In their most recent toll increases, GAO found the bi-state authorities generally provided the public limited opportunities to learn about and comment on proposed toll rates before they were approved, including one bi-state authority did not hold any public toll hearings, while another provided one day for hearings.
External oversight of the bi-state authorities is limited, as only one of the four authorities has been regularly audited by a state audit entity, according to GAO, and of those that were performed “uncovered areas of concern.”
GAO says does not make recommendations to non-federal entities, but noting “nonetheless the authorities could benefit from greater transparency in public involvement and clearer lines of external oversight.”
For the report, GAO examined practices by the Delaware River and Bay Authority, Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, Delaware River Port Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which together control 16 bridges and two tunnels.