The American Automobile Association (AAA) has asked the Dept. of Transportation to oppose the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's recently approved toll and fare hikes, saying that revenues from the increases should not be diverted to projects outside of the PANYNJ's transportation network, including the World Trade Center. The group says it is evaluating legal and other steps to contest the increases, which are set to take effect on Hudson River crossings September 18.

In a letter to Ray LaHood, DOT secretary, AAA New York says that increasing tolls to pay for cost overruns stemming from real estate re-development at WTC violates federal law. The group has asked members to urge government officials to fight the toll hikes.

Many construction industry groups, including the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, have thrown their support behind the increases, which PANYNJ revised downward after strong opposition from the public. "Without this toll increase, 3,900 jobs will be lost and $483 million in Port Authority capital spending will not happen in 2011 alone," Gary La Barbera, BCTCNY president says.

However, forcing interstate bridge and tunnel users to pay for unrelated and speculative real estate re-development costs establishes a troubling new precedent that the DOT should oppose, AAA says.

The group says that the increases come at a time when the region's roads and bridges are deteriorating and congested. "Although toll revenues from Port Authority bridges and tunnels far exceed their operating costs, every one of the Port Authority's four bridges is classified as 'functionally obsolete' by the Federal Highway Administration," AAA says.

The group says that drivers already pay more than their fair share at a time when government authorities are not meeting routine road and bridge maintenance needs. "Today more than ever, tolls on the Northeast corridor's busiest interstate transportation facilities should not be diverted to unrelated and speculative projects," the group says.

The New York State Motor Truck Association also opposes the hikes. "It is unfathomable that the government's answer to unbridled, irresponsible cost overruns by the Port Authority is to allow them to shake down barely surviving trucking companies,” says Kendra Adams, NYSMTA president. "The toll hike further demonstrates the Port Authority's fiscal incompetence."

Under the PANYNJ plan, rush-hour tolls for E-ZPass holders on the George Washington Bridge will rise to $9.50, and cash tolls to $12. Subsequent approved increases bring the tolls to $12.50 for E-ZPass and $15 for cash tolls by 2015.

Calls to PANYNJ were not returned by press time.