Gov. Chris Christie said Thursday he's unlikely to support a proposal to sharply increase tolls on bridges and tunnels between New Jersey and New York, but he didn't rule out smaller toll increases to pay for infrastructure improvements.
The proposal by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would increase tolls by $4 for E-ZPass customers and $7 for cash-payers as soon as September at the Outerbridge Crossing, Bayonne, Goethals and George Washington bridges and at the Holland and Lincoln tunnels. An additional $2 increase would happen in 2014.
"The idea of that kind of toll increase is unlikely," Christie said after an event on the beach promoting the Jersey shore economy. "Asking people for $4 more to cross the bridge or go through the tunnel to me seems like much too much."
Earlier this week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the proposal a "nonstarter."
Right now, E-ZPass customers pay $6 in off-peak hours. If the proposal passes, the price will rise to $10 next month and to $12 in 2014. Drivers paying in cash during rush hour now pay $8. Next month, that cost could go up to $15, and by 2014, it would be $17.
The agency said it needs the additional revenue — $720 million a year from the first phase and $290 million a year from the second — to pay for $33 billion in capital projects over the next decade, including the World Trade Center site's redevelopment, raising the Bayonne Bridge and replacing the Goethals.
Labor unions have come out strongly in favor of the plan because it would allow new and existing construction and security projects to move forward, creating and maintaining jobs for a sector of the workforce hit hard by unemployment.
Christie, a Republican, said he and Cuomo, a Democrat, would try to strike a balance between the need to fund construction projects with increased toll revenue and how much commuters can be asked to bear in a difficult economy.
"Gov. Cuomo and I are working together," Christie said. "I think that's what the people in the region should understand — they have a Republican governor and a Democratic governor who are talking almost every day and working together to get to the bottom of this and to find out what needs to be done that's responsible to keep projects moving."
Christie, who said he learned about the proposal last week, said he thought officials were kidding when they told him how much they wanted tolls to increase.
The governors each appoint six of the Port Authority's 12 commissioners. Christie's appointees include Chairman David Samson, who chaired Christie's transition team, and Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni, a longtime Christie political ally whom the governor plucked from the Legislature.
Public hearings on the proposal are planned for Aug. 16. The Port Authority will vote on the plan three days later. Either governor can veto the plan within 10 days of approval.