the staff of the Ridgewood blog
Paramus NJ, The NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway have seen a decrease in traffic and toll revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the NJ Turnpike Authority, traffic on the Turnpike was down 30% through June and traffic on the Parkway was down 26%. Revenue for both highways dropped by 27%, but the agency has said that they are $53 million under budget this year so far. The NJ Turnpike Authority recently approved toll hikes and massive highway widening projects for both the NJ Turnpike and GS Parkway that will cause environmental damage and increase climate impacts.
“Traffic on the NJ Turnpike and GS Parkway has dropped since the start of the pandemic, yet they are still moving forward with their damaging highway widening plans. Revenue from tolls is already down 30% and will probably drop more. It doesn’t make sense for them to be wasting $16 billion on unnecessary highway widening projects. They need to cancel their Capital Expansion Plan so that they can focus on fixing infrastructure that needs it and cover current operations and maintenance costs,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
The toll increases would be equally applied to all toll rates, including cash, E-ZPas, peak, off-peak, truck and car rates. The rate for a passenger car on the Turnpike would increase by an average of $1.25 and Parkway tolls by 30 cents. The money from the toll hike will go toward various projects, including full-time use of NJ Turnpike exit 19W with direct access to the American Dream Mall in the Meadowlands.
“This is a time of economic instability. With higher tolls and lower ridership, they won’t have the money to concentrate on operations and maintenance, much less highway widenings. They need to focus on Fix-It-First so that we can put our money into fixing infrastructure that needs it instead of widening parts of the NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway. They need to make sure they are spending money fixing dilapidated bridges or roads and making the necessary infrastructure repairs. Moving forward with the widening at this time is unsafe and irresponsible,” said Tittel. “Spending this money on highway widenings will create more flooding and more headaches for commuters. It will also mean more traffic going through Environmental Justice communities like East Orange and Jersey City.”
A more responsible way for these agencies to reduce traffic and protect our air quality would be to look at expanding mass transit. It is a better option that will promote a greener future that is more walkable and breathable.
“Right now, we don’t have the money to be spending $16 billion on highway widenings. Even when ridership returns and toll revenues increase, we’d be better off investing in mass transit to get more cars off of the road. Investing in mass transit will reduce traffic, air pollution, and create more jobs for our economy. Instead of widening the NJ Turnpike in the Meadowlands, we can expand the Bergen Light Rail into Bergen County. Instead of widening the Garden State Parkway, we can finally build the Monmouth-Ocean-Middlesex line. Instead of widening the NJ Turnpike in South Jersey, we can build the South Jersey Light Rail System,” said Jeff Tittel. “NJ Transit recently came out with a capital plan that they don’t have the money for. The money from these highway widenings would be better spent helping NJ Transit implement their capital plan.”
Governor Murphy believes this project has provided New Jersey residents with extraordinary opportunities for good-paying construction and building jobs, as well as opportunities for New Jersey’s business owners.
“These toll hikes will not help commuters in New Jersey. With less people driving on the NJ Turnpike and GS Parkway, there is no need to widen the roads. Even when ridership returns it won’t make sense to widen these highways. It will mean even more cars, bottlenecks, and pollution. If you build it, they will come. These are the wrong projects at the wrong place at the wrong time. They were pushed through during the pandemic without public scrutiny. Hundreds of people testified against the plan but it fell on deaf ears. These highway widenings will determine our land use and greenhouse gas use in the state for decades to come. NJ Turnpike Authority needs to cancel their Capital Expansion Plan so that they can focus on Fix-It-First instead of damaging highway widenings,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.