- Associated Press - Saturday, April 12, 2014

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) - John Hanson, the new chief executive of the Delaware River Port Authority, has been spending Friday afternoons far from his Camden corner office overlooking Philadelphia and the river.

With a fluorescent green vest over his suit jacket, he has been at the crowded Eighth and Market station beneath Center City, herding passengers onto packed PATCO trains.

“There’s room in this car,” he called on a recent Friday as he and other DRPA executives joined PATCO workers to ease crowding caused by a construction project on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

As the train prepared to leave, with scores of passengers on the platform, Hanson told frustrated commuters: “There’s another train on the way. It’ll be here in two minutes.”

Hanson, an accountant who was the DRPA’s chief financial officer until January, is taking a hands-on approach to the sometimes messy business of running commuter trains, toll bridges, and a politically connected organization that is under federal investigation for corruption.

Hanson, 54, took over as acting CEO in January, replacing John Matheussen, a former Republican state senator who was appointed a state Superior Court judge by Gov. Christie.

Hanson, a former Republican chairman of Camden County, was given the permanent job by the DRPA board last month with no raise in his $180,081 annual salary. Matheussen had received $219,474 a year.

He takes the top post at a challenging time.

The $103 million reconstruction of the PATCO tracks created chaos in its first weeks in January and February, as trains broke down, passengers were stranded, and cars were overcrowded.

That angered commuters already frustrated by months of broken escalators and elevators at PATCO stations.

And a federal grand jury is investigating the DRPA’s past use of about $500 million for “economic development” spending on projects pushed by the agency’s political patrons.

The DRPA is a bistate authority controlled by the governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The agency, with an operating budget of $278 million this year, owns four toll bridges, PATCO, and a summer ferry.

Hanson, an Audubon, Camden County, native, is a longtime DRPA insider, having served as a New Jersey board member from 2002 to 2004, when he became chief financial officer.

He said he knows that means he has to establish his credibility as a change agent, both inside DRPA’s headquarters and with commuters.

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