DRPA chief says reforms will come quickly

John Matheussen
John Matheussen
Posted: June 22, 2012

Enacting financial and governance reforms approved two years ago is the "top priority" of the Delaware River Port Authority, the agency's chief executive said Wednesday.

All of the changes approved in 2010 at the request of Pennsylvania's and New Jersey's governors will be made by the end of 2012, John Matheussen told the DRPA board, responding to a report by the agency's inspector general that highlighted the slow pace of reform.

Also Wednesday, a citizens' panel recommended additional changes the DRPA should make to improve its finances, operations, and battered public image.

The DRPA will seriously consider all of them, Matheussen and board members told Sean Leonard, outgoing chairman of the citizens' advisory committee, which was created by the 2010 reforms.

The agency should consider reinstating discounts for frequent users of the DRPA's four toll bridges or give motorists and PATCO rail commuters an occasional "toll holiday," the citizens' group said.

It should give the public at least 30 days to examine proposed DRPA budgets each year and post on the DRPA website winning and losing bids for all projects and all reports by the inspector general, the group said.

The committee recommended cuts in administrative costs, salaries, and deferred compensation. And it said the DRPA should end its practice of guaranteeing loans to third parties.

"No matter how safe the bridges are, no matter how clean the PATCO cars look . . . drivers' and PATCO users' overriding impression of the authority will be how much they just paid to take a PATCO train or cross one of the DRPA bridges," the citizens' panel reminded the board.

The committee urged changes in the DRPA's governing charter to repeal the authority to spend money on economic-development projects unrelated to transportation. Such changes would require action by the Pennsylvania and New Jersey legislatures and approval by Congress.

The citizens' suggestions showed "a remarkable amount of consistency" with many board members' views of the changes needed at the DRPA, said board member David Simon, executive vice president of the Jefferson Health System.

Simon asked Matheussen to push for quicker action on the changes demanded in 2010 by Gov. Christie and then-Gov. Ed Rendell. Simon asked that a schedule for proposed changes be presented to the board at its next meeting, in July.

In 2010, the DRPA board responded to the governors' demands with a well-publicized flurry of new rules designed to make the agency more accountable, transparent, and fair.

But "most of the reforms have not been incorporated into the authority's bylaws and standard operating procedures," DRPA Inspector General Thomas W. Raftery 3d wrote in a report last month.

Raftery recommended that reforms be "reviewed, clarified, and consolidated," and codified in the DRPA bylaws.

Action was slowed by extensive turnover at the agency after Gov. Corbett took office in early 2011 and became chairman of the DRPA. Corbett replaced the Rendell board's appointees, as well as several top executives.

Raftery, a former FBI agent, was not brought on as the agency's first inspector general until January 2012.

And one of the most controversial changes, a ban on free bridge passage for DRPA employees, was overturned for union members by a labor arbitrator in January 2011. The free rides are part of the union contracts for the 500 workers, including toll collectors, train operators, mechanics, and police officers, the arbitrator ruled.

The motorists' club AAA MidAtlantic urged Wednesday that DRPA reforms be made without further delay.

"While change does take time, two years should be enough to see a difference," spokeswoman Jenny Robinson said. "Motorists deserve to know their bridge tolls are being properly spent and not wasted."

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.