Toll hikes on the Garden State Park, which local officials for years have said disproportionately affect Ocean County, could be approved amidst the coronavirus pandemic when residents are unable to attend hearings, a group of local legislators said.
State Sen. Jim Holzapfel and Assemblymen Greg McGuckin and John Catalano (all R-Ocean) released a statement calling for the halt of hearings and plans to increase tolls during the ongoing COVID-19 emergency. Hearings were held March 18, as the pandemic’s wrath was just emerging in New Jersey, with little turnout to consider toll increases on the Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike. This week, online hearings will be held for similar plans for the Atlantic City Expressway.
A vote is planned for April 28 on the Parkway toll hikes. Tolls would be raised an average of 27 percent on the Parkway and over 30 percent on the Turnpike. Expressway tolls could increase by a staggering 50 percent. The hearings also include proposals to make toll increases automatic each year up to 3 percent to keep up with inflation.
“We call on Governor Phil Murphy, the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority Chair Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti to immediately stop any hearings, plans or discussions to increase our Parkway or Turnpike tolls at this time,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter. “We are in the middle of a state-wide public health emergency that caused a massive economic fallout and thousands of jobs terminated. The timing couldn’t be any worse for these hearings and we are vehemently against any increases at this time.”
The Turnpike Authority (which also oversees the Parkway) did not offer any interactive way for the public to comment on its meetings that were broadcast online. Now, however, comments are being accepted via e-mail to NJTAPublicComments@njta.com or by postal mail or courier to:
New Jersey Turnpike Authority
1 Turnpike Plaza
P.O. Box 5042
Woodbridge, NJ, 07095
“We want our residents to have a proper say in any potential toll hikes that will affect the lives of commuters and businesses throughout the state,” the letter went on to say. “It’s the wrong time, period. These hearings must be stopped now.”