Corzine proposes commuter discount

January 16, 2008 8:53:12 PM PST
Tolls may be increasing on New Jersey's highways, but Gov. Jon S. Corzine on Thursday said drivers who frequent those roads may get discounts under his plan to boost tolls to revamp troubled state finances.

"We will do some things to make it more attractive," Corzine said.

He also told The Associated Press during a Thursday interview that he won't sign legislation approving his plan if it allows governors and legislators to interfere with toll increases and the nonprofit agency formed to manage the toll roads.

"I'm not going to sign a bill that has that," Corzine said.

Corzine said commuters and carpoolers could receive discounts to help blunt the toll increases proposed to begin in 2010.

Corzine wants to increase highway tolls 50 percent in 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022. Those increases would include adjustments to reflect inflation. After 2022, tolls would increase every four years to also reflect inflation.

The Democratic governor wants to pay off at least $16 billion in state debt and provide money for transportation improvements.

Corzine didn't detail the potential discounts, but said they would assist people who rely most on toll roads, such as residents in Middlesex County - home to the Garden State Parkway, New Jersey Turnpike and Route 440, where tolls would be added.

"There are ways to address some of the inequities," Corzine said.

Corzine wants to create a nonprofit agency that would manage the toll highways and issue bonds to bring the state a large cash infusion to pay debt and fund transportation. The bonds would be paid back by the increased tolls.

"It's going to be independently governed, and it's going to be independently financed," Corzine said of the agency.

But the Democratic governor predicted it may be tougher protecting the agency from political interference than it is getting toll increases approved.

While Corzine said he might be willing to compromise with lower toll increases and keeping tolls off Route 440, he said preventing legislators and governors from getting involved in the agency's daily operations is vital to giving investors confident it will run like a business.

"It will be a deal breaker because it will be a deal breaker in the marketplace," Corzine said.

He said the agency will also have authority to try to earn money through other means, including improved rest stops, developing property along the roads and even attaching solar panels to sound barriers.

"A creative management team will be able to find other ways to grow revenue," the former Goldman Sachs chairman said.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)