Testimony of Kate Slevin
NJ Turnpike Authority Board Meeting
September 9, 2008
Good morning. I am Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a regional policy watchdog organization working for a more environmentally sound and equitable transportation network in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut.
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign has two serious problems with the toll hike proposal being discussed today.
First, we worry that action taken now to dramatically increase tolls for NJ Turnpike Authority projects could undermine future action necessary to replenish the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, which will run dry in 2011. Starting then, the Trust Fund will require a substantial infusion of money to pay for bridge repair, road maintenance, intermodal programs, transit projects, and biking and walking programs across the state. We understand that the Turnpike Authority’s bond covenant requires a toll increase to cover next year’s expenses and debt service obligations, but we believe a 10 year, 9.7 billion dollar capital program is too ambitious less than 2 years before the Transportation Trust Fund runs dry. The more tolls are increased today to pay for Turnpike capital projects, the less receptive elected officials and the public will be to increasing other transportation fees to pay for replenishment of the Transportation Trust Fund, and the Fund must be our priority.
Second, a case has not been made for the Turnpike and Parkway widenings, which under the best case scenario, will cost a whopping $3.3 billion to build, or, about one third of the 9.7 billion dollar capital program NJTA is discussing today. There is no evidence that these projects, as designed, will relieve congestion in the long run, and both run counter to state goals to curb greenhouse gases. Therefore, they are not smart investments.
The projects won’t relieve congestion because studies have shown that absent of demand management strategies, wider roads simply fill with more traffic. In fact, traffic projections released by the NJ Turnpike Authority show that the section of the Garden State Parkway the Authority proposes to widen will be as or more congested by 2025 with three lanes as it is today. NJ Turnpike Authority documents also show that the widened Turnpike will quickly fill its added capacity. It’s 2008, we need more innovative and effective solutions to traffic jams.
And we have them. There are much effective, not to mention cheaper, alternatives to manage traffic, such as congestion pricing, high occupancy toll lanes, mass transit, or, better freight management. However, none of these have been adequately studied for the Parkway or Turnpike. Shouldn’t the state study all possible alternatives and prove that these projects adequately reduce traffic congestion before we ask drivers to pay for these projects? We estimate that removing the Turnpike and Parkway widening projects from this program could reduce the toll hikes by about a third and give the state time to find more effective ways to manage congestion.
Further undermining the Turnpike expansion project is recent data from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority which shows that driving on the road has been much lower than the NJTA anticipated when it conceived the project. From April 2005 to April 2008, the number of vehicles using all seven New Jersey Turnpike entries in the project area (Exits 6, 6A, 7, 7A, 8, 8A, 9) stagnated. Between 2002 and 2007, average annual traffic growth was just .7%. The most recent annual data shows traffic on the roadway actually declined 1.1% between 2006 and 2007. This blows to pieces the NJTA’s whole foundation for expanding the roadway which, and I quote, is to “service existing and projected future traffic demand on the Turnpike mainline.” That foundation relies on pre-2002 data, when traffic growth rates were much higher, at 2.6% annually. Traffic growth rates are not what they were when this project was conceived.
There is one saving grace to this plan, something that will successfully reduce congestion, generate jobs (green jobs even), reduce our reliance on foreign oil, and provide New Jerseyans with public transportation alternatives to high gas prices. This is an investment in our transit network -- more money to NJTransit operations and a $1.25 billion contribution to the ARC tunnel, the new passenger rail tunnel under the Hudson River. The ARC project will double transit capacity, get people out of cars, generate 100,000 jobs, and stimulate our economy. This funding for ARC is vital: if we do not find state money for this project soon, the entire project is in jeopardy. NJ’s economy and environment cannot risk that fate. Whatever plan emerges from this discussion, ARC must be part of it.