Commuters and construction workers gave emotional speeches about proposed toll and fare increases at hearings Tuesday around the region by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
At crowded hearing rooms on both sides of the Hudson River, angry commuters traded turns at the microphone with labor union members who are eager to keep toll money flowing into ground zero and other construction projects managed by the bi-state agency.
The meetings Tuesday are hearing public comment on the Port's plan to hike the PATH fare from $1.75 to $2.75, and the 30-day unlimited from $54 to $89.
Under the proposal, peak tolls for E-ZPass drivers on Port Authority crossings would increase from $8 to $12 next month, and off-peak would go from $6 to $10. In 2014, both those tolls would increase another $2.
Drivers who pay cash would see a hike from $8 to $15 this year, and that would also increase by $2 in 2014.
The Port Authority is holding eight public hearings across northern New Jersey and in New York City to solicit comments. Four of the hearings were held Tuesday morning; another four will be held in the evening. A schedule of times and locations is below.
The agency has blamed its budget woes on various factors, including the costly $11 billion project to rebuild the World Trade Center, and increasing security costs at its facilities since Sept. 11.
Speaking in Jersey City Tuesday, one resident said the toll hike would be an economic hardship.
"This is outrageous and greedy," said Christine Bamberger, a Jersey resident who said she has been unemployed for the last four years.
Another Jersey City resident, Brook Weirs, agreed.
"North Jersey is paying for an attack on all of America," the physician said, referring to the costs of rebuilding the trade center. "In a lot of other places they would call this a tax."
"It should be on a national level," said 47-year-old Richard Brescher, who attended a hearing at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan. "When New Orleans had a problem the government stepped in to help New Orleans. Every time there's some kind of national catastrophe the government steps in. But here it seems like it's just us paying."
The Port Authority receives no tax money, so most of its revenue comes from tolls and fees, including rent paid by airlines at its four New York-area airports. Other commuters complained that highway toll money is being used for projects that have little to do with maintaining the bridges and tunnels.
"The Port Authority is making gobs of money from that sector, the bridges and tolls," Jason Ertel, a commuter from Clifton, N.J. "What I don't understand is how every morning as I drive down to pay my $8, my fillings are getting rattled out and the shocks of my car are being beat to death."
Union leaders, meanwhile, said construction funded by the higher tolls would create jobs and help jump-start the region's economy. At both the bus terminal and Holland Tunnel meetings, most of the seats were occupied by union members wearing orange T-shirts that said "Port Authority = Jobs."
Randy Bostick, 55, a union member for 28 years, broke into tears as he said, "I'm trying not to cry because I'm hurting so bad 'cause I need this to be passed 'cause I don't have no unemployment. I don't even have welfare. "
A vote on the plan is set for Friday. Either New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo could veto it within 10 days. Both have expressed their displeasure with the size of the hikes.
The Port Authority's executive director said Monday that the agency's proposed fare and toll hikes are "absolutely necessary."
Chris Ward said in a statement that the bi-state agency has an "immediate financial need" that needs to be addressed.
"We recognize that the proposed increase is substantial, but it is also absolutely necessary to ensure the financial strength of the Port Authority and to maintain and grow the critical transportation infrastructure that serves the bi-state region," Ward said.
Ward said Monday that the Port had considered smaller toll increases of $2 in 2011 and $2 in 2014, but concluded that was not significant enough to avoid another fair and toll hike down the road.
"No one wants to enact toll increases twice, but a predictable, not volatile, plan for revenue is in the interest of a rational plan for infrastructure investment," he said.
Following the 8 a.m. hearings, another four hearings will be held at 6 p.m.:
- George Washington Bridge Admin Bldg., 220 Bruce Reynolds Way, conference room, Fort Lee, N.J., 201-346-4005
- Holland Tunnel Admin. Bldg., 13th Street and Provost Street, conference room, Jersey City, N.J., 201-360-5021
- George Washington Bridge Bus Station, 4211 Broadway, lower level conference room
- JFK Airport, Port Authority Administration, Building 14, Second Floor Conference Room, 718-244-3501
- Petrides Educational Complex Auditorium, Building C, at 715 Ocean Terrace, Staten Island.
There was also an online hearing that began at 2 p.m. at www.panynj.gov.