Dear NMA Members,
Following the lead of the NJ Turnpike Authority, the South Jersey Transportation Authority surprised the motoring public on March 21 when they announced public hearings on their proposed $500 million capital plan and the toll rate adjustments for the Atlantic City Expressway.
The official notification was released to meet the minimum ten-day requirement before the first hearing on April 1 that was held remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic with a live stream for viewing and a call-in number to provide spoken comments. And, there was no detailed information until a few days before the hearing!
The NMA and its criticism were prominently featured in the linked news stories that provide summary information along with links to more detailed information from the Authority. This alert will feature the key information and then ask you to send comments about the toll hike and capital plan to the Authority to either their postal or email address by 5 PM on April 20.
For passenger vehicles, the tolls would increase by $.57 for the “average trip” (to $2.09), reflecting a 37 percent increase. The Pleasantville toll plaza and some exits increase from $.75 to $1.25 for a 67 percent increase while the Egg Harbor toll plaza and some exits increase from $3.00 to $4.25 for a 42 percent increase. The Exits 38 & 41 tolls increase from $.40 to $.60 for a 50 percent increase.
Detailed toll rate schedules for the Expressway and specific information about the Capital Plan the toll increases would fund are online. Some slated projects include resurfacing of the Expressway ($10M), lighting improvements ($2M), third lane widening from milepost 31.6 to State Route 42 ($150M), Interchange 7 improvements ($20M), converting the toll system to a cashless system ($40M) and constructing a new interchange to allow a direct connection to the Atlantic City Airport ($60M).
The big surprise with the greatest opposition was the inclusion of two light rail projects – design support for the Glassboro-Camden Light Rail Line and upgrades to the Atlantic City Rail Line. The online capital plan shows a “to be determined” the Authority gave cost for each but a $200 million cost for the Glassboro-Camden line. That is 40 percent of the $497 million capital improvement plan!
Future toll increases would be indexed to the Consumer Price Index and would be limited to 3 percent annually. No year was given when increases from the index would start. If the index becomes 3 percent annually starting in 2022, the average Expressway toll doubles from today’s rates in 2033. By 2040, the Expressway would see a 141% increase from 2019.
The NMA analyzed the Capital Plan to quantify the impact on the tolls of removing $200 million for the light rail projects. That analysis found that the toll increase would only need to be 60 percent of what was proposed. For passenger vehicles, the tolls would increase by only $.34 for the “average trip” (to $1.86), reflecting a 22 percent increase. The Pleasantville toll plaza and some exits increase $.30 from $.75 to $1.05 for a 40 percent increase while the Egg Harbor toll plaza and some exits increase $.75 from $3.00 to $3.75 for a 25 percent increase.
Without the light rail projects, the toll increase is substantially reduced. The most expensive project for 3rd lane widening becomes 50 percent of the total reduced Capital Plan while the airport connector becomes 20 percent. The reduced-cost plan provides motorists better value for increased tolls with needed maintenance and targeted expansion. And, the tolls would double four years later compared to the Authority proposal based on a 3 percent annual increase.
There are other nuanced issues with the Authority proposal, and it is a shame that they tried to sneak in the proposal and hearings with little time and information. When you comment, express your feelings as a user or potential user and be sure to mention that the light rail projects should be eliminated from the plan, and the proposed toll rates reduced accordingly.
Comments and questions about the capital plan and the proposed changes to the toll schedule may be submitted by no later than 5 PM EDT April 20 by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or sent by mail, hand delivery or courier to:
South Jersey Transportation Authority
Farley Service Plaza
PO Box 351
Hammonton, New Jersey 08037
Thank you for your support of motorist rights and the National Motorists Association!