Mobilizing the Region

Issue 226 June 25, 1999

4-Point Plan For Smart Tolls In New Jersey

With talk of a NJ Turnpike toll increase and legislative plans to reduce toll plaza delays on the Garden State Parkway, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign last week issued the following calls for action:

1. Fire M.F.S. Network Technologies, New Jersey's E-ZPass Contractor - New Jersey's E-ZPass boondoggle, replete with malfunctions, delays, and contractor fines, has left drivers sitting in traffic past the date when toll plaza relief was promised. Initially scheduled to be installed on the Turnpike and Garden State Parkway by 1998, it is now predicted that - barring further snags - the Turnpike and Parkway won't have basic E-ZPass technology until 2000 at the earliest, 7 years after the NY State Thruway began E-ZPass operation.

2. Provide Non-Stop Toll Capability, use E-ZPass technology to its potential -- A forward-looking approach is to adapt E-ZPass toll reader installation to non-stop toll collection, rendering conventional toll plazas obsolete. Roadways across the U.S. are developing toll systems that permit drivers to pay tolls while proceeding at normal highway speeds. Some divide the roadway between high speed through-toll traffic and traditional cash-collecting toll booths. The latter approach is tailor-made for the Parkway, with its traffic snarling main-line toll plazas. The NJ Turnpike Authority is already developing a non-stop E-ZPass payment site at Turnpike Exit 6; the approach should be developed at many more plazas.

3. Use "Smart" Tolls to Beat Gridlock, exempt off-peak motorists from the toll hike - With drivers on the Turnpike facing possible toll hikes of 20% or more over the next five years, the state should not only look at the toll hike in terms of revenue, but for congestion reduction as well. Increasing tolls only during peak hours and decreasing them at other times will minimize the increase's impact on the traveling public and help reduce congestion for rush hour motorists by encouraging some drivers to travel at off-peak times.

4. Don't Divert Money for Developer Highways, devote spending to essential Turnpike and Parkway work only. The NJ Turnpike Authority plans to spend 60% of the revenue from its proposed toll hike on road projects designed primarily to serve land developers - Route 92 and the Secaucus interchange. Revenue raised by a toll increase should be used for road maintenance and operation, not diverted to sprawl- and traffic-inducing new road projects. Drivers up and down the Turnpike would feel a smaller pinch if the Turnpike wasn't planning to dun them for new roads they haven't asked for.

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