Motorists on three of the state’s largest highways will see their tolls go up for the first time in nearly a decade, after Gov. Phil Murphy approved plans Wednesday evening from the agencies that oversee the roadways.
Tolls will increase on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike, as well as the Atlantic City Expressway, to finance decade-long capital plans, which clock in at $24 billion and $500 million, respectively.
“We’ve lurched too long,” Murphy said Wednesday afternoon at his daily COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton. “I said from the get-go we weren’t going to kick the can down the road anymore on infrastructure.”
The approval comes despite calls for a delay, rallied for by environmentalists and a top state senator, during the Wednesday morning meeting of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which owns and operates the Parkway and Turnpike.
The hearings for the NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway topped three hours. Murphy ultimately approved the NJTA’s decision Wednesday, as well as that of the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which owns the Expressway.
Labor and construction unions backed the proposed increases and capital plan, arguing they could be an economic shot in the arm for a state whose economy has been ravaged by a global pandemic.
But environmentalists and members of the public spoke against the proposals, questioning the environmental benefit they would yield for the state, and arguing that the increases were being plowed through by the Murphy administration while millions of New Jerseyans were focusing on surviving the pandemic, be it concerning their physical health, stay-at-home orders or economic hardship from the ensuing recession.
Tolls on the NJ Turnpike would go up an average of $1.30. So, a drive from Exit 1, just north of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, to Exit 18W near the George Washington Bridge would increase from $13.85 to $18.85 for cars.
On the Garden State Parkway, tolls would go up from $1.50 to $1.90.
Both increases go into effect on Sept. 13, and starting in 2022 would increase up to 3 percent a year, depending on certain economic factors. Tolls would go from $3 to $4.25 at the Atlantic City Expressway’s Egg Harbor Township toll plaza.
The $24 billion for the Turnpike and Parkway capital plans includes $16 billion toward “lane-widening,” on both highways, including in some of the densely populated swathes of Essex and Hudson counties.
“The word ‘widening’ may have been a poor descriptor,” State Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said Wednesday. “Capacity improvements more accurately describe the approach.”
The plans also call for replacing a bridge across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania, installation of cashless tolling, and a new toll plaza on the Turnpike. On the Atlantic City Expressway, the state would enact lane-widenings, cashless tolling and an access route to the nearby airport.