Residents Can Have Their Say On Toll Increase Proposal

STATE – Public hearings on a proposed toll-increase package for the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike will be held next week. If approved in its current form, Parkway commuters would see a 143 percent toll hike and Turnpike drivers would see a 150 percent increase by 2023.

The nearest hearing will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 24 from 9 a.m. – noon at New Jersey Turnpike Authority Headquarters, 581 Main Street, Woodbridge.

The plan, which must be approved by Gov. Jon Cozine, would see the current 70-cent Parkway tolls jump to $1 in 2009. They would rise to $1.50 in 2012 and $170 in 2023. Exit ramp tolls would rise from 25 cents to 35 cents.

The cost of an average 22.9 mile trip in a passenger vehicle, which now costs $1.20, would rise to $1.80 next year, $2.70 by 2012 and $3 by 2023.

The new proposal is supported by state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth), though it is not as ambitious as the original toll-road plan he backed that called for 800 percent toll increases and would have paid down the state’s debt as well as funding transportation projects.

“Everyone I talk to throws up their hands and says, ‘When is it going to end?’” said Raymond G. Neveil, president of Citizens Against Tolls.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority board approved the toll-increase package last week. Corzine has the final say on the package by approving or vetoing the authority’s minutes.

“We tried not to be punitive by doing the toll increase in one year. It will happen over 15 years,” said Kris Kolluri, state transportation commissioner and authority chairman. “The money will go for tangible congestion and safety relief.”

The toll-increase package will fund a $9.7 billion capital program, including projects to widen the road on both highways. It will provide $1.25 billion toward construction of the second Hudson River rail tunnel to Manhattan. State officials have to provide proof to federal officials that they have money allocated to match any grants provided for construction of the tunnel.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas H. Kean Jr., (R-Union) urged Corzine to veto the toll-increase proposals and support a Republican plan to constitutionally dedicate $500 million in existing motor vehicle fees to fund transportation projects. The lawmaker planned to introduce a resolution that, if adopted by a majority of the Legislature, would authorize a veto vote on the Turnpike Authority’s toll hike plan.

Kean said the New Jersey Constitution authorizes the state Legislature to veto the actions of independent authorities such as the Turnpike Authority. The resolution charges that the plan to use toll increases to fund a non-highway tunnel project is counter to the Legislature’s intent in establishing the Turnpike Authority and can be rejected by lawmakers.

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