Casinos back toll hike plan

January 23, 2008 8:54:02 AM PST
The industry association for the city's 11 casinos is supporting Gov. Corzine's plan to increase tolls because it would upgrade transportation systems, which the gambling halls view as crucial to their expansion plans.

Corzine is facing tough opposition to the proposal, which would boost tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and Atlantic City Expressway by 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 governor would use the extra money to pay off at least half of the state's $32 billion debt, and fund transportation work for 75 years.

"Clearly the monetization aspect of the proposal is the tough medicine," the Casino Association of New Jersey said in a statement. "However, this industry recognizes that without the resulting proceeds from the toll increases, the state cannot reduce its indebtedness by 50 percent and fund transportation infrastructure improvements for 75 years.

"We believe those two aspects of the proposal are absolutely critical for the state to right its financial ship," the association wrote.

The group said it will be studying the projected impact of higher tolls on its profits.

Corzine said Tuesday that Atlantic City realizes it needs better transit options if a wave of $10 billion or more in new casino projects is to succeed.

"One of the things that the people in Atlantic City understand is that if you are to build a great destination resort, you need a world-class transportation system to be able to get people there," he said.

Corzine said rail service needs to be upgraded to bring new visitors into Atlantic City.

The governor also said that when Bader Field is developed, better transit options will be needed to bring thousands more people and vehicles into the area. Several casino operators are eyeing the 150-acre former airport tract, which could accommodate as many as four new casinos.

Associated Press writer Tom Hester Jr. in Trenton contributed to this story.