Say Governor’s Diversion of Toll Funding for Cancelled Project is Dishonest to State’s Drivers
TRENTON – Yesterday, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman, Nicholas J. Sacco, and Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney introduced legislation intended to roll back toll increases intended to pay for the cancelled Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) tunnel project that Governor Chris Christie rejected late last year.
“It’s disingenuous for the Governor to, on one hand, cancel the ARC tunnel project, and on the other, continue the funding source for the ARC tunnel into perpetuity to pay for his own transportation projects,” said Senator Sacco, D-Hudson and Bergen. “When tolls were increased along the Turnpike and Parkway in 2008, it was done so with the understanding that the funds would go to pay for the ARC tunnel, a transportation project designed specifically to alleviate congestion on our roads and improve our mass transit infrastructure. When Governor Christie cancelled the ARC tunnel, he forfeited any right to those increased toll funds.”
“New Jerseyans are struggling with higher taxes, higher unemployment, and a higher cost of living than surrounding states,” said Senate President Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem. “Whenever we have the opportunity to make the Garden State a little more affordable for the people we represent, we should take that opportunity. By rolling back tolls on the Parkway and Turnpike that were originally intended to fund the ARC tunnel project, we can alleviate a burden on New Jersey drivers and eliminate unnecessary toll increases.”
The bill, S-2636, would direct the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to adopt a resolution to scale back toll increases on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway that are no longer required for the financing or payment of the cancelled ARC mass transit tunnel between New York and New Jersey. In 2008, the Authority approved a two-phase toll increase on the Turnpike and Parkway to raise $1.25 billion for the State’s contribution to the ARC Tunnel project. In October, Governor Christie announced his decision to terminate the ARC tunnel project, but recently identified increased toll revenues as a part of his plan to stabilize the State’s Transportation Trust Fund (TTF).
The phased in toll increases were estimated to have increased the cost of an average trip on the Turnpike by 50 cents in 2008, with an additional 90 cent increase to be triggered in 2012. The added cost on drivers who take the Turnpike every day for work average out to $130 a year more in tolls under the 50-cent increase, and $235 a year in added tolls under the 90-cent increase.
“I don’t think anyone questions the fact that New Jersey needs to find a stable funding source for the TTF, but I have a serious problem with funding that’s earmarked for one project being diverted to other programs after the fact,” said Senator Sacco. “Governor Christie claims he was able to find a funding solution for the TTF which does not increase taxes or tolls, but he’s depending on a toll increase instituted in 2008 and intended to fund a project designed specifically to improve North Jersey’s road and rail transportation. If the Governor’s plan to stabilize the TTF depends on toll increases, he should make the case to the driving public himself, not rob Peter to pay Paul.”
“Governor Christie should be up front with the tax- and toll-payers of New Jersey and make the case himself if increased tolls are needed to fund his TTF plan,” said Senate President Sweeney. “When the two-tiered toll increase plan was instituted in 2008, the Turnpike Authority held town hall meetings with New Jersey residents to inform them of the added cost and benefits of the ARC tunnel. This legislation would require the Governor to make the same pitch to drivers and taxpayers, rather than a bait and switch which will extend the toll increase into the foreseeable future.”
The bill will be considered by the Senate Transportation Committee.