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Comments of John Matheussen, DRPA CEO & Executive Staff at Press Conference Announcing Public Hearings
Comments of John Matheussen, CEO of the Delaware River Port Authority and President of PATCO along with statements from Bill Brooks, DRPA Chief Engineer; Bob Box, PATCO General Manager and John Hanson, Chief Financial Officer at the July 10, 2008 2:00 p.m. Press Conference In One Port Center Board Room
John Matheussen’s Comments:
We are here today to present the staff’s recommendations that will be made to our Board on changes to the bridge toll and PATCO fare schedules. This process will include significant public input. We have scheduled 2 Public Hearings, as well as opportunities for the public to be heard via mail and email.
The first Public Hearing is Tuesday, July 22nd from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on the Rutgers-Camden Campus in the Campus Center Main Lounge. The second Public Hearing is Wednesday, July 23rd from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Philadelphia Cruise Terminal at the Navy Yard.
By way of history, our last toll increase was almost 9 years ago and our last PATCO fare increase was 7 years ago. The previous Board and Administration expected the monies raised from those past toll and fare increases would address capital needs over a 5-year period, but in reality, the current Board and Administration have worked hard to leverage those dollars over nine years. It was challenging, but we managed our capital program by slowing it down without sacrificing safety, security and serviceability. But we can no longer proceed under a static plan. NOW is the time to move ahead. Now is the time to re-address the current and future needs of the DRPA and PATCO to keep our bridges and facilities safe, secure and serviceable. Simply stated, our bridges and PATCO need to be maintained and improved and that requires an investment of money. Our Board began the process of improving our assets when they approved our
5-year Capital Plan last November. That plan, that vision, meets our most important responsibility, to assure the safety and security of all those who drive across our bridges or ride PATCO every day.
When we arrived here in April of 2003, we began a program to not only examine our capital needs but also our operating standards. Before asking the public for more of their hard-earned money, we had to make certain we were spending their dollars effectively and appropriately. I want to share what we have done over the last 5 years to control expenses. Here are some of the ways we have achieved cost efficiencies:
- We significantly reduced staffing by 124 positions – a 12 % reduction in force;
- We saved $3M by restructuring our health care program to contain the rising costs of coverages;
- We instituted a cost containment program which sharply curtailed items such as travel and equipment purchases;
- We reduced subsidies to several of our lines of business including restructuring ferry operations;
- We have also sold excess properties, consolidated space and increased rentals in our office building, One Port Center;
All of these actions have resulted in the DRPA taking a more business-like approach to controlling expenses.
The Board last November approved a Capital Budget which calls for an investment of over $1B into our 4 bridges, PATCO and our assets assuring that they will remain safe, secure and serviceable now and for decades to come.
But we haven’t stopped there. We heard the discontent of many in the public regarding DRPA’s involvement with economic development. Going forward, I want to assure you that new monies raised from these proposed toll increases will not, and I repeat WILL NOT, be used for economic development projects despite the authorization of our charter. Our efforts and the toll monies will be dedicated to our assets, our bridges and PATCO.
Bill Brooks, our Chief Engineer, will now outline our need for $1B in capital improvements.
Bill Brooks’ Comments:
The size of DRPA’s Capital Program reflects the magnitude of the maintenance, repair and security needs of the various facilities. Several significant projects are currently underway and many more are scheduled to occur in the near future. Presently, we are engaged in a $22 million project to complete the 5th and final phase of painting and repairs to the BFB. At the CBB construction work is ongoing to repair/replace the deck joints at a cost of $8 Million.
In addition, there are $65 million of security improvements which are planned to occur over the next few years.
The Walt Whitman Bridge is scheduled to undergo painting and repairs at an estimated cost of $45 million. In addition, the deck of the Walt Whitman Bridge is scheduled for replacement in the near future at a cost in excess of $115 million.
There are also a significant number of maintenance and repair projects scheduled for PATCO over the next several years. I would like to introduce Bob Box, PATCO General Manager, to talk more about those projects.
Bob Box’s Comments:
PATCO is about to turn 40, and several years ago, we began a major capital improvement program to address elements of the system that were wearing out, enhance safety and security and otherwise improve PATCO so it can provide safe, reliable service into the future.
We have already completed numerous projects in that program, but still have many more that need to be accomplished. They include:
The upgrading to the transit car fleet costing an estimated 200 million for a complete rebuild; work on Ben Franklin Bridge to repair track support steel and replace wooden ties; replacement of power poles and power and signal cables along the above ground portions of the system; replacement of power and signal cables in the subways; rehabilitation of the track anchor system on the viaducts and on portions of the Ben Franklin Bridge; structural repair work in the subways; structural repairs and painting of numerous overpass bridges along the line.
Additional projects include installing elevators in the remaining stations to accommodate customers with disabilities.
And finally, there is money in the budget to progress the early phases (Preliminary engineering and draft environmental impact statement) of the PATCO Expansion effort. Now, John Hanson, our Chief Financial Officer, will discuss the financial aspect of the capital budget.
John Hanson’s Comments:
As many of you are aware, our Capital Budget was passed by the Board at our December, 2007 Board Meeting. Prior to its passage, we held a public briefing of our budget for the public and the press.
This Capital Budget represents our Board’s vision for the future of the bridges and the PATCO line that we operate and maintain on behalf of the public. It is a vision that facilitates inter-state commerce and ensures interstate travel capability for commuters, law enforcement and security personnel far into the future. The bridges and PATCO are vital to the economy and security of this region. It is our responsibility to keep them safe, serviceable, and secure.
Planned capital spending for the next five years totals $1.1 billion, with DRPA’s share estimated at $947 million. In 2008, we plan to spend $94 million. There are approximately $31 million dollars remaining in the project fund, which means we will need to take $63 million from the general fund. For this reason, it is clear that we need to identify a new recurring revenue source. We estimate that for every dollar tolls increase, DRPA generates between $425-$475 Million in new bonding capacity.
Today we are beginning the dialog about the action we must take to make this vision into a reality. CEO John Matheussen will now describe management’s recommendation for financing our capital plan.
John Matheussen’s Comments:
Here is our recommendation on how to implement our Board’s vision with proposed changes to the bridge toll and PATCO fare schedules.
For BRIDGE TOLLS:
1. We will recommend bridge tolls go up one dollar for cars on September 14 th of 2008, there will be another one dollar increase in September of 2010 and cost of living increases every two years after that. All other tolls will increase proportionately.
2. A phase-out of the commuter discount. The credit for 18 crossings a month on the same transponder will be reduced to $12 on September 14th of 2008 ….. reduced to $6 in September of 2009… and the discount would end in September of 2010.
3. The Senior Discount will remain with a few changes. We recommend that the Senior Discount be directly linked to an E-ZPass account and will be accepted only during off peak hours. The peak hours when the discount will be invalid are from 6-9am and 4-7pm Monday thru Friday. The Senior Discount will be half of the normal toll and is limited to one crossing per day. We remain the only toll agency in the country which offers a senior discount.
4. The current commercial discount will end.
5. We are creating a new one-dollar Green Pass Discount which will be offered to E-ZPass customers driving low emission vehicles that get at least 45 miles to the gallon and meet the California super ultra low emission vehicle (SULEV) standard. Cars that currently qualify for the discount are the 2000-2004 models of the Honda Insight, the 2003-2008 models of the Honda Civic Hybrid and the 2001-2008 models of the Toyota Prius.
Regarding PATCO FARES
1. For PATCO, we are recommending a 10 % increase on September 14 th of 2008, another 10 % increase in September of 2010 with cost of living increases every two years after that.
2. The federally mandated reduced fare program for seniors and disabled which is now .57 cents would increase to .62 cents on September 14th of 2008 and then .70 cents in September of 2010.
3. As an example, a 10 % fare hike in September would mean the cost of a one-way ticket from Lindenwold, Ashland or Woodcrest to Center City Philadelphia, our longest trip, would increase by .25 cents from $2.45 to $2.70.
We welcome comment from the public not only at the Public Hearings but also electronically. Comments may be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be included in the public record. We will accept comments starting today through July 25th at noon. Following the Public Hearings, the matter will go before the DRPA Commissioners for their consideration and vote.
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