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NY, NJ governors reduce planned toll increases

By Joan Gralla

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Tolls and fares charged by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey would rise but by less than initially proposed under a revised plan, the governors of New Jersey and New York said on Thursday.

For example, motorists with electronic E-Z Pass cards would pay an extra $1.50 starting in September 2011, not the $4 hike proposed in early August by the Port Authority, which wanted to raise E-Z Pass fares to $12 from $8 in peak hours.

The toll would rise 75 cents a year each December from 2012 to 2015. Drivers who pay in cash would be hit with a $2 penalty -- plus the same increase.

The $1.75 base fare on the PATH train that links New Jersey and Manhattan would rise 25 cents a year for four years. The Port Authority, in the proposal it unveiled in early August, would have increased the fare by $1.

"This is a responsible alternative that balances the infrastructure needs of the region with toll and fare payers' economic realities," New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a joint statement.

"It will prevent a default by the authority as well as a downgrading that would prevent the authority from borrowing money to pay for existing and future projects," added Christie, a Republican, and Cuomo, a Democrat.

The Port Authority had said it needed the toll and fare hikes to fund its 10-year, $33 billion capital plan. The governors said that the Port Authority -- in a review they demanded -- had come up with $5 billion of savings. They did not say whether any projects would be delayed or scaled back. Their spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.

The Port Authority, which has $14 billion of debt, runs the city's three airports and major bridges and tunnels. It also leads the World Trade Center rebuilding but that -- along with some of its other projects -- has had huge cost overruns.

In return for not blocking the fare and toll increases, the two governors demanded a comprehensive audit. "The reports of cost overruns, excessive overtime, and exorbitant spending must stop immediately," Christie and Cuomo said.

Earlier this week, New York state's Democratic comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, faulted the Port Authority for spending $459 million in overtime from 2006 to 2010.

Under the revised plan, trucks that use E-Z Pass would pay an extra $2 per axle in September 2011. The toll would rise by the same amount each December from 2012 to 2015. Cash-paying truck drivers would pay the same increase -- plus a $3 per axle penalty.

(Reporting by Joan Gralla; Editing by Gary Hill)