Codey wants 20 miles of Pike widened
The $1.2B project in Central Jersey spawns warning of a toll
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
BY JOE MALINCONICO
Launching one of the state's biggest highway projects in more than a
decade, acting Gov. Richard Codey
wants to widen 20 miles of the New Jersey Turnpike in Central
Jersey, transportation officials said.
The massive project -- covering
an often congested stretch of the Turnpike from Interchange 8A in
Middlesex County to Interchange 6 in Burlington County -- could cost as much as $1.2 billion,
Transportation activists warn the Turnpike likely would need a toll increase
to pay for the widening, but they also say they would tolerate a hike
to pay for a project that is crucial to the state's economic and
"Given all the work they've got to do, you
know they're not going to be able to come up with the money to pay for
this without having to raise tolls," said Steve Carrellas, New
Jersey coordinator of the National Motorists Association. "If they had
to raise tolls, it would be more palatable because at least we're
getting something tangible for it."
Codey will announce the initiative this morning during a meeting with
the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, transportation officials
said. Codey spokeswoman Kelley Heck did not return calls for comment.
Officials said yesterday it is premature to discuss how they would pay
for the project or whether it would necessitate a toll hike.
An 18-month, $10 million study is being done to determine exactly how
much the job would cost, how long it would take and how the extra lanes
would be built. Officials say they are not sure whether the road, which
is three lanes in each direction in that area, would expand to four
lanes or five.
Traffic jams already are routine near Interchange 8A, where the
Turnpike heading south shrinks from five lanes to three as part of the
merger of the separate roads for trucks and cars.
Officials say the widening is needed
to prevent Turnpike traffic in Central Jersey from grinding to a
standstill after the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 2011 completes a ramp to
Interstate 95, which they expect would funnel thousands more
cars and trucks onto the New Jersey road.
"The gridlock down there is just unbelievable," said Gail Toth,
executive director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association. "This is
really exciting news. I know it's not going to happen tomorrow. But
hopefully it won't take 20 years, either."
Some activists and a Middlesex County
legislator are suggesting the Turnpike ought to abandon its
controversial plans to build Route 92, a proposed 6.7-mile
extension from Interchange 8A to Route 1 in South Brunswick, and use
the money set aside for that project for the widening. The Turnpike already has earmarked about
$250 million of the $400 million cost for Route 92.
Transportation officials, however,
insist the widening project will have no impact on their decision
whether to proceed with the Route 92 project.
Even activists who routinely criticize highway widening projects are
getting behind the Turnpike plan, largely because they see it as an
opportunity to steer traffic away from local roads in Central Jersey.
"It's a great idea, but only if it's
part of a package of improvements that creates a better road network in
Central Jersey," said Janine Bauer, a transportation and
environmental issues attorney.
"It's good for the region, it's good
for mobility," said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the Sierra Club
of New Jersey. "If you don't do it, the Turnpike will never move" once
the Interstate 95 link to the Pennsylvania Turnpike is completed.
But, Tittel warned, the benefits of
the expansion would be lost unless the state puts the brakes on new
development in that region.
Officials said they do not expect major difficulties getting
environmental permits and buying property for the widening project.
Eventually, coming up with the money
may be the biggest hurdle.
The Turnpike's last series of toll
hikes, in 2000 and 2003, provided the revenue needed to borrow $950
million to cover the new interchange being built in Secaucus, the Route
92 project and other road improvements.
Now the Turnpike wants to eliminate its E-ZPass discount for rush hours
and weekends, a move officials say will generate as much as $17 million
a year to help cover debt on a $400 million package that includes
rebuilding Interchange 12 in Carteret and repairs on several bridges.
Sen. Leonard Lance (R-Hunterdon), who has been a fiscal watchdog in the
Legislature, said the Turnpike plan has not yet been discussed with
"Obviously, I would want an analysis of the financing of such a
proposal," Lance said.
Joe Malinconico covers transportation. He can be reached at
email@example.com or at (973) 392-4230.