Gov. Corbett Heads Up DRPA

16 commissioners unanimously approved him as the new chairman.

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    Gov. Tom Corbett is now the chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority.

    Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett became chairman of the embattled Delaware River Port Authority on
    Wednesday and promised a deep review before making any major changes.

    The agency owns and operates four Philadelphia-area toll bridges and the PATCO commuter rail line that connects Philadelphia with southern New Jersey.

    Corbett nominated himself this week to the board made up of representatives from both New Jersey and Pennsylvania. On Wednesday, the 16 commissioners unanimously approved him as the new
    chairman.

    Five other commissioners were also at their first meeting after being named to the agency by Corbett.

    The newly elected Republican said he believes the agency should focus on providing safe and affordable commutes _ and stay out of economic development work.

    He said it was too early to say whether he wanted to replace the agency's CEO or make any other big changes. He wouldn't say whether he supports extending the PATCO line into new routes in Philadelphia or to New Jersey's Gloucester County -- ideas that have been floated but not funded.

    "I want to take a look at what's going on here," he told reporters after running the DRPA's monthly meeting. "I don't judge anything, no offense, by what you people put in newspapers and on
    TV."

    The agency has been a major story in the Philadelphia area over the last year.

    One official resigned after it was learned that he was using another's free E-ZPass for his daughter to cross the agency's bridges for free. That brought anger about the very notion that
    employees were getting no-cost commutes on PATCO and DRPA bridges at all.

    With the prodding of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and others, including former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, swift changes were made.

    The free tolls and fares were ended - though an arbitrator later reinstated them for union employees.

    The agency, which had once been a major financier of non-transportation projects including luxury apartments in Camden, sports stadiums in Philadelphia and the National Constitution Center, among others, pledged to stay out of those businesses -- strengthening an earlier promise not to use new toll money on them.

    Corbett said he doesn't want to see the agency return to economic development.

    "The business of the DRPA, as far as I'm concerned, is the commute and safe transportation of people back and forth across the Delaware River."

    Meanwhile, the agency decided to leave in place toll hikes on the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Commodore Barry and Betsy Ross Bridges that are scheduled to take effect July 1. The tolls will
    jump to $5 from $4. Some board members tried to stop the increase, but decided it wasn't worth taking on other financial risks to do it.

    Corbett said he expected to attend, and run, most of the monthly board meetings in the DRPA's Camden headquarters. Wednesday's was brief and without the rhetorical fireworks that had marked others since last year.

    Corbett said he'd work closely with Christie, who has veto power over the agency's actions.

    He also didn't rule out major changes in the future for the DRPA or other Pennsylvania toll roads. He said he could consider privatizing them _ particularly to pay for new construction -- or
    going to an all-electronic toll collection system.

    Motorists should pay attention to signs at the toll plazas.