Wednesday, December 6, 2023
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AAA Renews Push to Stop New York Toll Hikes

MANHATTAN (CN) - With the Port Authority roughly one year shy of completing its plan for annual fare hikes in New York and New Jersey, two automobile clubs doubled down on their opposition to the increases.

Automobile Club of New York and AAA North Jersey sued the Port Authority three years ago on the grounds that the agency planned to use the funds for unauthorized projects like the World Trade Center reconstruction.

Denying this, the Port Authority asserted that the funds will support a $10.786 billion interstate transportation network, known as the "ITN Capital Plan."

Failing to obtain a preliminary injunction, tolls rose annually as the parties continued searching for evidence.

With the latest toll hike slated to take effect on Dec. 7, and AAA renewing its bid for injunctive relief, both sides returned to court Wednesday in a document dispute.

Kevin Mulry, representing AAA for Farrell Fritz, told the court that the Port Authority has withheld eight categories of files, including communications with gubernatorial staffers from New York and New Jersey.

These could include the communications of the governors themselves, AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair said after the hearing.

So far, the Port Authority has succeeding in shielding the documents under the cloak of "deliberative process," a privilege that lets government agencies withhold internal discussions about public policy.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry Pittman rejected the AAA's requests last year on these grounds.

The automobile clubs appealed that decision to Judge Richard Eaton, who is now presiding over the case at the Court of International Trade.

Mulry, the AAA attorney, argued that the protected documents might strike at the heart of the case if they reveal the reasons for the toll increase.

"That has been central to this case from the beginning," he said.

Richard Mark, representing the Port Authority for the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, emphasized that the hearing focused on the "very narrow issue" of a small subset of documents.

Port Authority already has turned over other categories of documents such as financial records, he added.

Mark contended that these records showed that Port Authority used the money just as they said they would.

Disputing this, the AAA argued in a recent brief that the "ITN Capital Plan" budget they received expenditures that they believe violate the commerce clause and Highway Act.

These include $1.8 billion for the Pulaski Skyway and New Jersey roads; $1 billion to raise the Bayonne Bridge roadway for navigational needs; and $1 billion as a "'placeholder' untethered to any transportation project," according to the brief.

Judge Eaton reserved decision on the matters.

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