Philly-area bridge, transit agency comes under more fire

HARRISBURG, Pa. - September 22, 2010

Members of the Pennsylvania Senate Transportation Committee asked leaders of the two-state agency about how it came to spend millions on economic development projects, as well as details of a policy that has allowed employees skip the tolls on bridges it controls.

The executives described recent changes that they said have improved operations, but Sen. Jane Earll, R-Erie, indicated she was not impressed.

"It's almost akin, in my mind, to locking the barn door after all the animals have left," Earll said during comments by chief executive John Matheussen and board chairman John Estey.

Other topics included patronage hiring, the DRPA's Byzantine governing structure, letting employees go to work for contractors immediately upon leaving the authority and how it pays executives.

"I plan to have the legislatures on both sides of the river work very closely with the federal government and have more oversight," committee Chairman John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, told reporters midway through the daylong hearing. He said the authority needed to be more accountable to the public.

"Somebody has to eventually stand up to say, 'I'm in charge of this organization,"' Rafferty said.

The authority, with roots in the 1930s, manages several bridges across the Delaware River, as well as the Port Authority Transit Corp. trains that link Lindenwold, N.J., with Philadelphia. Its 16-member board is appointed by the governors of the two states, and recently Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has exercised his veto power to force agency reforms.

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