New Jersey residents oppose increases on the state’s three major toll roads scheduled for September mainly because they don’t believe that the money raised will be used properly, according to a poll released July 22.
Nearly half of the respondents, 49 percent, said they are against the toll hikes on the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and Atlantic City Expressway, while only 38 percent expressed support. Of those opposed to the increases, 50 percent said they did not believe the funds will be spent on road repairs, which was the state’s rationale for imposing the new rates. Twenty-four percent of those opposed said they couldn’t afford to pay the increased tolls; 16 percent said the state could do the work without higher tolls and just 8 percent said the highways don’t need the repairs.
The survey of 805 adults with at least one from each county of the state was conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll in conjunction with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825.
Krista Jenkins, director of the FDU Poll and professor of politics and government at the university, noted that the tolls will go up on Sept. 13 whether residents like it or not. “However, it is important to note that many who are opposed base their opposition on the distrust that the toll hike revenues will actually be spent on road improvements,” she said. “What this means is the state’s use of the money for road improvements needs to be paired with better communication. In other words, messaging must be far more than a sign saying ‘Your Tax Dollars at Work.”
Noting that toll hikes are never popular, Local 825 Business Manager Greg Lalevee acknowledged that state officials had taken a difficult action. “But there is a road forward for motorists to support the increases if they can see their investment being put to good use,” he said. “That means two things – the state must follow through on its promise to dedicate the revenue to road improvements and they must let New Jerseyans know how the funds are being spent.”
The survey also found that 23 percent of residents believe the quality of the state’s transportation infrastructure is improving, with almost the same number, 22 percent, saying that roads, bridges and tunnels are getting safer. The results are slightly better than those in a similar poll conducted last year. In that survey, 16 percent of respondents said quality was improving and 15 percent said the same about safety.
“Obviously, the intervening event between last year and today is the pandemic, which has kept so many off the roads,” Jenkins said. “Whether the numbers continue to improve once things return to normal is an open question.”
The poll was conducted on landlines and mobile phones from June 18 through June 29.