Motorists are slated to see tolls go up on two of the state’s largest highways – the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike – with the administration set to decide Wednesday afternoon whether to hike tolls for the Atlantic City Expressway, as well.
Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday appeared unlikely to veto the proposed increases – a power that he has 10 days to exercise – meaning the plan could likely go through.
The toll increases propose to finance multi-year capital upgrades: $24 billion for the Garden State Parkway and NJ Turnpike, and $500 million for the AC Expressway.
“Now there’s going to be a plan and it’s, I believe, the right plan,” Murhy said at his daily COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton.
“I’m not doing this because it’s necessarily popular, and I appreciate enormously the strain that folks are under right now, but we need a state that’s here a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now,” he said.
The Parkway and Turnpike increases were both approved by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which manages the highways, in a 7-0 vote during a remotely-held Wednesday meeting. It followed three hours of public comment from many who oppose the increase.
Under the NJTA’s plans, tolls on the NJ Turnpike would go up an average of $1.30. Prices on the Garden State Parkway’s main toll plazas, as opposed to those at entrances and exits to the highway, will go up from $1.50 to $1.90. Those extra fees would finance roughly 100 miles of lane widenings and 53 separate projects spanning the next decade, such as a new exit on the turnpike and cashless tolling.
Increases would go into effect on Sept. 13. The tolls have not gone up since 2012.
The South Jersey Transportation Authority, which oversees the AC Expressway, says its proposal would see tolls at the Egg Harbor plaza advance from $3 to $4.25. That would finance 13 miles of lane-widening, cashless tolling, and a direct connection to the Atlantic City Airport.
Tolls for all three highways would increase up to 3 percent a year starting on Jan. 1, 2022, depending on certain economic indicators at the time.
“This is the bridge you go over on the Turnpike or the Parkway that is way old … it’s the two lanes in the south that should be four lanes, and you’re sitting there, idling, wasting your own money, polluting the environment,” Murphy said on Wednesday.
Their approval comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged the state’s economy and budget, claimed nearly 11,000 lives and left many New Jerseyans effectively stuck at home.
Toll revenue and billions in other state taxes meanwhile have been shattered, as millions of New Jerseyans and out-of-state workers and visitors stay at home and avoid travel.
Environmentalists and open government advocates have accused the Murphy administration of ramming through the toll increases at a time when most residents are focusing on survival, physical health and unemployment during the global pandemic.
“The NJTA Capital Plan last minute posting on the NJTA agenda is a sneak attack on public transparency, environment and mass transit,” Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said in a Tuesday evening statement. “The Capital Plan hasn’t been adjusted one iota despite the public outcry and the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“It is a little ill-timed to be doing this in the middle of the crisis, when people’s attention is really … on health care issues … at 9 o’clock in the morning,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-37th District, added on Wednesday.
She told the board to hold off on the Wednesday vote, over concerns shared with environmentalists that the money should go toward something other than lane-widening, which environmentalists worried could add cars to the road and increased air pollution.
Still, the Murphy administration, and labor and construction unions, support the plan, arguing that it could be an economic shot in the arm for the state in the midst of a global recession rivaling economic conditions not seen since the Great Depression.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 2:09 p.m. EST on May 27, 2020 to reflect updated comments from Gov. Phil Murphy.