PALMYRA — The Burlington County Bridge Commission has introduced a $28.9 million operating budget that holds tolls at $2 at its Delaware River spans, keeping the cost to cross steady for the 13th year in a row.
Tolls on the commission-owned and operated Burlington-Bristol and Tacony-Palmyra bridges have remain unchanged, as those on other bridges in South Jersey, including those run by the Delaware River Port Authority, have increased and are now up to $5.
The commission, during its regular monthly meeting last week, unanimously introduced the budget, which must be approved by the state and will likely be adopted in the fall.
The commission’s 2014 operating budget represents about the same spending as in last year’s plan, officials said.
Last fiscal year, the commission, run by three appointed commissioners led by Chairman John Comegno of Moorestown, collected more than $33.5 million in tolls, more than $2 million than the previous fiscal year.
Year-to-date as of Thursday, the spans have collected about $27.5 million, spokeswoman Liz Verna said.
The commissioners also outlined a separate $37.4 million capital improvement budget, with major projects slated to begin by the end of the year, including the repainting of both bridges.
Comegno and fellow commissioners James Fattorini of Lumberton and Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, reaffirmed their commitment to an aggressive bridge maintenance program and pledged to continue economic-development, shared-service and tax-saving efforts that account for nearly $16 million in taxpayer savings.
“Our bridge maintenance is second to none,” Comegno said. “We remain committed to providing safe and affordable passage over our bridges, while also partnering with the (Burlington County) freeholders on shared-service initiatives that provide property tax relief to Burlington County residents. All with no toll increase.”
The commission is the county’s economic improvement authority and oversees the county’s economic development and regional planning efforts. It also contributes $3 million annually to the freeholders’ $184.2 million operating budget for the maintenance and improvement of county bridges and the roads to those spans.
Motorists can expect to see work on the bridges, including repainting, get underway later this year. Painting is one of the commission’s largest expenditures and one of the most important, according to officials.
Although painting will improve the aesthetics of the historically significant structures, its importance is in the protection from rust and corrosion, the commissioners said.
Without such protection, the bridges’ integrity could be compromised.
The commissioners touted their ability to undertake the project without the need to raise tolls. The last time the bridges were painted, in the mid-1990s, tolls were increased to pay for the work, officials said.
“Thanks to the commission’s sound financial planning, we’ve held tolls stable since 2000,” Singleton said. “And through an aggressive capital maintenance program, we keep our bridges in top condition while providing work in challenging financial times.”
Other planned capital projects include replacement of the electrical powerhouses on the Pennsylvania side of the Tacony-Palmyra and Burlington-Bristol bridges.
These structures contain the critical electrical connections that provide power to the movable parts that open the bridges to marine traffic and illuminate the spans at night.
A “traveler system” will be installed on the Tacony-Palmyra, which allow engineers and crews to inspect and work on the bridge without the need to close a lane of traffic. Capital projects also include structural steel repairs to both bridges.