the staff of the Ridgewood blog
Trenton NJ, Elected officials, environmental leaders and ordinary citizens throughout the State harshly criticized today’s NJ Turnpike Authority’s approval of a $16 billion plan to widen the NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway and demanded that Governor Murphy reject the plan, which would be disastrous for the health, welfare and well-being of New Jersey residents and our cash starved State. The widening plan conflicts with the State’s Energy Master Plan and the Governor’s Executive Orders regarding climate change and clean energy, increases pollution, and despite its enormous price tag, undermines the state’s pandemic recovery efforts, and produces no benefit to the State, especially compared to alternatives. The approval will be followed immediately by a 1:30 p.m. special meeting of the South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA), which will likely approve $210 million for highway expansions on the Atlantic City Expressway.
Since the NJTA issued its toll hike and road widening plan in March, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and without any meaningful public input, elected officials, progressvie groups, transportation and environmental advocates have opposed the NJTA’s plan. Two-thirds of the spending would be used to widen the Parkway and Turnpike. Little or no money is to be spent on mass transit or electric vehicle infrastructure, and not nearly enough on bringing existing roads and bridges into a state of good repair.
Environmental advocates had previously released an alternative plan to spend the funds on mass transit and “fix it first” projects to create thousands more high paying union jobs, reduce traffic congestion, and achieve – rather than contradict – the Governor’s clean air and energy goals. The Rail and Road to Recovery report highlights 27 unfunded but needed mass transit projects, totaling over $25.8 billion that would create 1.28 million jobs, and estimates well over an additional $10 billion are needed to repair the state’s existing road and bridge network.
Neither the Governor nor the NJ Turnpike Authority (NJTA) has not credibly explained deigned to address the timing of the widening plan or explain how it can be squared with the Governor’s jobs, climate and clean energy agenda. Instead, on 24 hour notice to the public, the NJTA snuck the capital plan on its agenda for today’s meeting in a pell-mell attempt to push through the capital program without a distracted public realizing the ill-conceived plan was going forward.
As Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg testified at the meeting this morning, the NJTA needs to pause its consideration of the road widening plan. The issue is not whether construction projects should go forward, but which ones. As Senator Weinberg previously said, “This pandemic has given all of us an opportunity to revisit our priorities. This might be a really good place to start. This $24 billion will determine what kind of transportation infrastructure New Jersey will have for the rest of the century. We have to invest in mass transit now. We need expanded light rail, two new rail tunnels under the Hudson and improved service on NJ Transit. Road widenings will not solve our state’s transportation woes.”
“The NJTA Capital Plan last minute posting on the NJTA agenda is a sneak attack on public transparency, the environment and mass transit. The Capital Plan hasn’t been adjusted one iota despite the public outcry and the COVID-19 pandemic, and the desperate funding straights NJ Transit is in. This is an absolute tone-deaf moment by the NJTA and the actual plan is still as flimsy as it was on the day it was released a little more than 2 months ago. This is a real test for Governor Murphy to step up and veto the minutes of this meeting. If approved, this plan will be a permanent stain on his environmental and climate record,” said Doug O’Malley, Director, Environment New Jersey. “The plan conflicts with the Governor’s clean energy policies; the goals of the state’s Energy Master Plan which includes the reduction of emissions from vehicles that account for the largest source of New Jersey’s net greenhouse gas emissions; and the easing of environmental burdens on vulnerable communities.”
“The approval of the highway plan would be the height of hypocrisy. It would fly in the face of the Governor’s rhetoric and his Executive Orders as well as the State’s Energy Plan,” said John Reichman, Chair BlueWaveNJ Environment Committee. “Despite its enormous price tag, the highway widenings will provide New Jerseyans with little or no long-term benefit. While NJTA claims that the widenings will reduce traffic congestion, the evidence suggests the opposite — study after study shows that highway widening, particularly in urban areas, only provides temporary relief from congestion. Without additional mass transit capacity, it leads to ‘induced demand’ with the widened highways quickly filling to capacity.”
“The plan will lead to more vehicles, more greenhouse gases and more deadly pollution, which will disproportionately affect low-income workers, immigrants and people of color. New research from Harvard University shows long term exposure to air pollution directly increases COVID-19’s death rate and that poor air quality in urban neighborhoods is currently leading to more deaths from COVID-19 in vulnerable communities. These are the very same people who are also impacted first and worst by the climate crisis and unhealthy air. These two crises are intertwined,” said Kim Gaddy, Environmental Justice Organizer and Newark resident, Clean Water Action.
“What the NJ Turnpike Authority did is an abuse of power. Their expansion plan will hurt New Jersey’s environment decades to come. If the Governor cares about protecting our environment and reducing GHG’s, then he has to veto the minutes. This plan is a lose-lose. It will create more traffic, more pollution, and more sprawl. New Jersey should take the $16 billion and invest in mass transit, this is especially important after dealing with the economic downturn of the coronavirus to our transit system,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “NJTA’s plan is a throwback to the 1950s. The NJ Turnpike and GSP expansion plan will have a major impact on our environment and land use for decades to come. This plan is the opposite of everything that Governor Murphy stands for.”
NJDOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti has attempted to justify the NJTA plan by saying that it would be an immediate economic stimulus. This argument does not hold water when it comes to the road widening. These are long term projects. NJTA should first proceed with shovel-ready repair projects that could put people immediately back to work.
“The NJTA 20-year capital plan is out of line with the state’s economic, climate and transportation goals. The Governor must veto the meeting plans and direct NJTA to come up with a new plan that meets our present and future needs,” said Janna Chernetz, Deputy Director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “New Jersey can no longer continue to plan in a vacuum. New Jersey must reconsider its transportation investment priorities to achieve its urgent economic, climate and energy goals. Money invested today and projects built tomorrow are likely to impact the state for decades, which is why it’s important that we get this right and make New Jersey a healthier and more sustainable place to live and do business.”