New Jersey takes Advantage of the COVID-19 Crisis by raising Tolls: NMA Tolling in America Blog for April 13, 2020

By Shelia Dunn, NMA Communications Director

The Tolling in America Blog is a biweekly feature of the NMA blog.  We want to bring the issues of tolling and infrastructure funding to our supporters. Please feel free to comment below the post.

New Jersey takes Advantage of the COVID-19 Crisis by raising Tolls

Written with assistance from Steve Carrellas, NMA Foundation Board President and NJ State Activist

On March 7, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority surprised the public by announcing public hearings on its proposed $24 billion capital plan and toll rate adjustments to fund it. The hearing took place on March 18 with a 50-person gathering limit due to the COVID-19 Crisis. Details were not available before the required hearing, but are currently online.

The $24 billion capital plan allots $7.87 billion to the Parkway, $11.91 billion to the Turnpike, and $4.36 billion for both, mostly for maintenance, improvements, and upgrades. Between both facilities, the $16 billion is allocated for widening over a 10 to 20 year period.

To pay for this, the Authority wants to increase future toll increases, starting in 2020 and limited to three percent annually. If indexed at this rate, the average Turnpike toll doubles from current rates in 2034 and doubles for the Parkway in 2036. By 2040, the Turnpike would see a 140 percent increase from 2019, and the Parkway sees a 123 percent increase.

This proposal gives the appearance of handing over a blank check to the Authority’s wish list. Can the motoring public be assured they will get the value they are willing to pay for with the tolls? Has the Authority lost the public’s trust?

Apparently, when it rains, it pours bad news in New Jersey.

On March 21, the South Jersey Transportation Authority announced that it would also hold public hearings on its $500 million capital plan proposal, which includes toll rate adjustments as well for the Atlantic City Expressway. Detailed toll rate schedules for the Expressway and specific information about the Capital Plan the toll increases would fund are online. The biggest surprise, though, 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. Funding these two projects would be 40 percent of the nearly $500 million capital plan. If the light rail projects were taken out of the equation, toll increases would only need to be 60 percent to fund the rest of the capital plan. Drivers, rightly so, are outraged!

Fortunately, motorists can still make online comments ([email protected]) for the South Jersey Transportation Authority proposal until April 20, 2020. Here is the link to the NMA Alert for more details.

Coupled with the recent gas tax increase in New Jersey, the increase in tolls seems like a slap in the face to Jersey motorists.  Holding public hearings and online comments during the COVID-19 Crisis to push the increases through makes the insult even more spectacular.

Of course, COVID-19 might be one of the worst crisis of our lifetimes, wilting infrastructure and how to pay for it will help exacerbate the situation for all of those who are just trying to keep our heads above water. This process during this time hurts citizen’s rights to participate in important local decisions.

Shame on you New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority for pushing your agenda and taking advantage during this crisis period.

Here are five other top Tolling in America and Infrastructure Funding stories from the past weeks:

NMA also has resources that might help in local efforts to fight tolls and fight for proper funding of infrastructure.

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