Turnpike Authority proposes toll hikes

September 4, 2008 4:55:15 PM PDT
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority on Thursday asked Gov. Jon Corzine to approve a series of toll increases on the Turnpike and Parkway pay for road improvements, help fund a new rail tunnel into New York City and meet existing debt. The proposed increases would begin with a 60-cent hike on the average Turnpike trip next year, followed by a 90-cent increase three years later and a 30-cent increase in 2023. On the Parkway, where tolls now average 35 cents, the average trip would rise by 15 cents next year, 25 cents more in 2012 and 8 cents on top of that in 2023.

"We believe increasing tolls, even minimally, is an action of last resort, not one of first choice," the board said in a letter to Corzine dated Thursday. It was signed by the board's six members, including Transportation Commissioner Kris Kolluri.

Revenue generated from the increases would be used to widen the Turnpike and Parkway, invest $1.25 billion in a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River and repair and replace aging bridges.

The proposal for the Turnpike and Parkway follows Corzine's failed plan to fund transportation improvements and pay down state debt with massive toll increases.

And it comes shortly after the Delaware River Port Authority announced toll hikes on four Philadelphia-area bridges, effective Sept. 14. Corzine has said he would not block those increases.

In Thursday's letter, the Turnpike board said the authority could not meet its debt obligations next year without increasing tolls. Tolls last went up on the Turnpike in 2000 and on the Parkway in 1989.

The Corzine administration issued a statement late Thursday saying the governor is reviewing the board's proposal.

"It appears to be a significantly scaled back proposal that takes into account the state's need to address safety and congestion issues on New Jersey's roadways, as well as the financial realities New Jerseyans face as a result of the national recession," the administration said in a statement.

"The governor heard the concerns voiced earlier this year about his original plan and realizes his proposal to pay down debt as part of a toll plan was too much for people across the state to accept," the statement continued. "He feels strongly that any toll increase needs to be held to an absolute minimum."

Corzine experienced significant backlash from voters, lawmakers and even members of his own party when he unveiled a plan to fund transportation needs and halve state debt through massive toll increases. With virtually no legislative support, Corzine buried the plan and promised to craft a more modest proposal.

The new plan drew praise from AAA Clubs of New Jersey Chairman Fred Gruel.

"AAA applauds the commissioner (Kolluri) and his team in their efforts in addressing the state's vast transportation funding needs," he said. "At first glance it appears that the proposal is consistent with AAA's long-standing position that any increase in revenues must be solely dedicated to transportation projects."

The proposal now before the governor includes money to widen the Turnpike between interchanges 6 and 9, and the Parkway from milepost 30 to 80, and money for the new Hudson River Rail tunnel into New York.

The federal government demanded a transportation funding plan be in place by Oct. 1 for the tunnel, or New Jersey risked losing federal funds.

The federal government expressed a willingness to contribute $3 billion to the $7.5 billion project, with New Jersey and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey paying the rest.

Some other transportation needs will not be met by the proposed toll increases.

For example, the state's transportation fund is expected to run out of money in 2011.

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