NJ, DE governors announce compromise toll deal for Memorial Bridge, ferry

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Delaware Gov. John Carney and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced a resolution related to the proposed Delaware Memorial Bridge toll rate increase that gives Delaware and New Jersey EZ-Pass account holders a small break by cutting nearly $24 million in spending

The new proposal will generate $32 million in increased annual toll revenue compared to the previous $34 million proposal.

Trimming a couple of million dollars a year

The modified proposal includes the following:

  • EZ-Pass discount for passenger car/small truck “home agency” users (NJ EZ-Pass or DelDOT account holders) of 25 cents off the $5 toll rate.
  • Frequent Traveler discount rate increases from $1.25 to $1.75. In 2021, the rate increases to $2.25. Frequent Traveler program is 20 trips in 90 calendar days.
  • Delaware River and Bay Authority (DRBA) Five Year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) is amended from $423 million to $399 million.
  • The effective date deferred for two months from March 1 to May 1, 2019.

“Discussions on a path forward were positive and constructive and I’m pleased we were able to find common ground,” saidCarney. “With additional revenue, the DRBA can now proceed with many vital infrastructure investments at Delaware Memorial Bridge and Cape May-Lewes Ferry that otherwise would have been delayed or postponed indefinitely. Thank you to Governor Murphy for his willingness to work together to fund these important infrastructure investments.”

Carney noted that the additional toll revenue is now available to match the $22.3 million BUILD federal grant, the $6 million Federal Transit Administration Grant to Repower and Retrofit two ferry vessels, as well as numerous federal grants at the agency’s aviation facilities.

Deal opens door to gaining two federal transportation grants

“I’m thrilled to have worked with Governor Carney to generate this modified proposal that is more fair to commuters, and allows us to invest in the Delaware Memorial Bridge to keep it in good-repair,” saidMurphy. “This modified proposal allows us to ensure the safe passage of travelers from New Jersey and Delaware while addressing the commuting costs of our residents, critical goals shared by both states.”

Murphy added that the DRBA agreed to cancel or defer infrastructure projects that would be value-added to their operation, but not vital or essential for the particular facility. Most of the cuts affect the Cape May-Lewes Ferry.

James Salmon, spokesman for the Delaware River and Bay Authority released the following statement:

“We’re pleased that an agreement has been reached. The additional revenue is critical to funding major infrastructure projects at our network of transportation facilities. We want to thank Governor Carney and Governor Murphy for working with us to move forward on a resolution acceptable to all involved.”

Ship collision protection system saved

With the additional revenue, the DRBA now has the resources to fund the following capital projects planned at Delaware Memorial Bridge and Cape May – Lewes Ferry: Bridge Paint Removal and Recoating ($48.2 million); Suspension Rope Replacement ($24.5 million); Bridge Steelwork Repairs ($40.5 million); Pin and Link Rehabilitation on Both Structures of DMB ($19.7 million); Ship Collision Protection System ($45.2 million); Bridge Deck Repair ($21.5 million); Transfer Bridge Repairs at the Cape May – Lewes Ferry ($4.3 million); and Ferry Repowering Program ($9.5 million).

DRBA commissioners plan to vote on the revised schedule at a board meeting on Wednesday, February 20.

Murphy had previously vetoed planned toll hike from the two-state Delaware River and Bay Authority claiming the amount was above essential projects. Critics had claimed a political tussle with the New Jersey State Senate leader was another factor. Murphy is not considered to be a fiscal hawk.

The parties later went to work to hammer out an agreement for the aging Twin Spans of the Memorial Bridge, with the Cape May and Lewes areas missing out on some projects.

Credit rating at risk

At stake was a possible change in the credit rating of the River and Bay Authority as well as federal grants. Without an agreement, there was a risk that agencies would lower the authority’s credit rating, a move that would increase borrowing costs.

Ferries typically lose money and the DRBA has worked to cut costs through fewer ferries and refitting remaining vessels with more efficient engines.

To date, proposals to build a bridge-tunnel in the area served by the ferry have not beenfound to be financially feasible.

In neighboring Maryland, a study is underway for another bridge across the Chesapeake Bay. One of more than a dozen proposals calls for a bridge in Cecil County, MD that would feed traffic into Route 301. Delaware recently opened a toll road on Route 301 that will feed traffic directly on to Route 1 and bypasses an increasingly congested and fast-growing Middletown.

Crossings to the south have been met with criticism over the possibility of the span bringing traffic and development.

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