To amend the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Improvement Act to provide access to certain vehicles serving residents of municipalities adjacent to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area
STATEMENT OF DR. STEPHANIE TOOTHMAN, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, CULTURAL RESOURCES, PARTNERSHIPS, AND SCIENCE, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING H.R. 3620, TO AMEND THE DELAWARE WATER GAP NATIONAL RECREATION AREA IMPROVEMENT ACT TO PROVIDE ACCESS TO CERTAIN VEHICLES SERVING RESIDENTS OF MUNICIPALITIES ADJACENT TO THE DELAWARE WATER GAP NATIONAL RECREATION AREA, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
JUNE 15, 2016
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 3620, to amend the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Improvement Act to provide access to certain vehicles serving residents of municipalities adjacent to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and for other purposes.
The Department supports enactment of H.R. 3620.
H.R. 3620 would amend the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area Improvement Act (P.L. 109-156) with respect to the prohibition against commercial vehicle use of Highway 209, a federally owned road within the boundaries of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area in Pennsylvania. The bill would reinstate the authority, with some revisions, of the National Park Service (NPS) to allow commercial vehicles serving local businesses to use Highway 209 through a permit and fee program. The previous authority expired on September 30, 2015.
The bill would permit the use of Highway 209 until September 30, 2020, by commercial vehicles with four or fewer axles that: (1) are owned and operated by a business located in the recreation area or by one or more adjacent municipalities named in the bill, or (2) are necessary to provide services to businesses or persons located in the recreation area or in one or more of those municipalities. As part of the permit program authorized by this bill, the NPS would be allowed to charge an annual fee of up to $200 per vehicle. All fees received would be set aside in a special account and made available for the administration and enforcement of the program, including registering vehicles, issuing permits and vehicle identification stickers, and personnel costs. The bill would exempt local school buses; fire, ambulance, and other safety and emergency vehicles; and commercial vehicles along specified segments of the highway from the permit and fee requirement.
In 1983, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania transferred 22 miles of State Road 209 (now referred to as Federal Road 209) to the United States to enhance the relatively new Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. It was transferred with the understanding that commercial traffic on the road would cease. At the time, it was reported that more than a 1,000 tractor trailers per day were using the road as a pass-through route between I-80 and I-84. There were 13 trucking companies surrounding the recreation area when the road was transferred, and those companies were allowed under law a ten-year transition period to adjust to the new regulation of the road. The NPS was authorized to collect and retain fees from the commercial use of the road but only from so few entities that it cost the NPS between $50,000 and $150,000 every year to regulate traffic. Further, when the road was transferred there were many private properties along the 22- mile route. Now the United States owns all of the properties except for one store located on the south end within the section of road from mile 0 to Bushkill Falls Road (SR 2001) that allows commercial traffic.
Completion of the construction of Interstate 287 in New Jersey provided an alternate route to I-80 and I-84 allowing commercial traffic to effectively bypass Highway 209. Construction of a state road that will parallel Highway 209 is expected to be completed in the near future and will further reduce local commercial traffic through the park. In the meantime, the enactment of H.R. 3620 would serve the needs of local communities while offering a way for NPS to manage permitting and fee collection for commercial traffic on the park road. We hope that this approach will cover the cost of NPS fee administration and traffic enforcement, but that will depend on the number of commercial vehicles that choose to use Highway 209. A year after this program is implemented, we should have an estimate for the following years.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have.