AAA Fight New York-New Jersey Toll Hikes

     MANHATTAN (CN) – Auto clubs want a federal judge to stop a toll hike that went into effect in New York and New Jersey last week, calling the plan an illegal fund for unrelated projects like the construction of the new World Trade Center.
     In a 14-page complaint, the Automobile Club of New York and AAA North Jersey detail toll increases dating back from 1975, when bridge tolls jumped from $1 to $1.50 round-trip.
     The new rates top off at $12 for drivers paying in cash.
     First announced on Aug. 5, Port Authority originally planned to hike tolls by $4 for E-Z Pass holders and by $7 for those paying in cash, but governors of New York and New Jersey successfully lobbied for an incremental raise, according to the complaint.
     The adopted plan, which came into effect on Sept. 18, raised tolls for E-Z Pass users by $1.50 this year and called for a 75-cent annual hike until 2015.
     Drivers without E-Z Pass have to pay a $2 penalty on top of the increased toll.
     The plaintiffs say the plan suspiciously followed an announcement by the Port Authority’s executive director about the reconstruction of the World Trade Center, now expected to cost $3 billion more than previously thought.
     According to the complaint, Port Authority has more than $484 million in surplus fund for its “integrated interdependent transportation network,” making the toll increase unnecessary.
     “Any determination as to the reasonableness of the Port Authority’S rate of return must exclude the World Trade Center from the rate base,” the complaint states. “The Port Authority’s inclusion of the World Trade Center in its rate base improperly distorts its rate of return, creating the illusion that a toll increase is justified when in fact the Port Authority’s integrated, interdependent transportation system is providing a significant surplus.”
     The plaintiffs seek an injunction blocking the current increase and a judgment declaring it illegal.
     They are represented by Michael F. Fitzgerald of Farrell Fritz.

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