NJ Toll increase urged by State Senate

January 15, 2008 6:52:42 PM PST
The Senate leader on Tuesday urged Gov. Jon S. Corzine to quickly introduce legislation to implement his plan to increase tolls on some of the nation's busiest highways to cut state debt and fund transportation.

Corzine wants lawmakers to approve the plan by mid-March, but Senate President Richard J. Codey said the Legislature needs to give the proposal a thorough review.

Codey said he spoke with Corzine's chief of staff, Bradley Abelow, on Tuesday to convey concern and stress that a plan needs to be introduced as soon as possible.

"This plan will impact every New Jerseyan for generations to come," said Codey, D-Essex. "It's not something we can rush through or tread lightly over. This is a monumental undertaking, perhaps the largest fiscal restructuring plan the state has ever seen, and it needs to be well thought out."

Codey noted that the bill will likely be hundreds of pages.

"Plain and simple, we need to get this introduced faster than John Madden on his way to a tailgating party," said Codey, who has conceded that getting the plan approved by the Legislature will be difficult.

Corzine's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Corzine's plan calls for paying off at least half of $32 billion in state debt and funding transportation projects for the next 75 years.

He wants to create an independent nonprofit corporation that would manage toll roads. It would issue bonds, which would be paid back with increased tolls.

Corzine wants to increase tolls 50 percent in 2010, 2014, 2018 and 2022. Those increases would include inflation adjustments, and after 2022 tolls would increase every four years until 2085 to reflect inflation.

The Atlantic Expressway, Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike would be affected, and tolls would be added to Route 440 in Middlesex County.

He unveiled the plan on Jan. 8.

The parkway is the nation's busiest toll road and the turnpike the nation's fifth busiest, according to the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. The state's three toll roads carried 748 million vehicles in 2006.

Corzine is holding public meetings on his plan in all 21 counties. The next one is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the County College Of Morris in Randolph.