For immediate release: March 24, 2009
Contact: Kyle Wiswall, Kate Slevin
Tri-State Transportation Campaign
P: 212-268-7474

Turnpike Widening Based on Bad Science, Not Supported by Data

Same congestion relief available through cheaper methods; Project undermines State Greenhouse Gas efforts

Trenton, NJ – An independent analysis released today shows that congestion relief on the New Jersey Turnpike can be achieved by less expensive and environmentally threatening methods than the planned expansion project. The report, which was prepared by Smart Mobility, Inc. and commissioned by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, highlights multiple errors in the New Jersey Turnpike Authority's environmental review documents that overstate the need for the widening project.

"We commissioned this analysis because the New Jersey Turnpike Authority refused to investigate cheaper and more effective options to reduce congestion on the road," said Kate Slevin, executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "The report found what we feared, that this project is too large, too expensive, and based on bad science."

The state is planning to widen the New Jersey Turnpike by six lanes from exits 6 to 8A and by two lanes from exits 8A to 9, adding a total 170 lane miles.

The analysis found that the same congestion relief that would be achieved by the widening would be accomplished by improving congestion pricing methods already in place on the Turnpike. Currently, the Turnpike charges variable tolls depending on time of day with higher tolls charged during rush hours. By making these charges more flexible, both by price and according to the level of congestion on the road, the road can be "managed" in a way that keeps traffic flowing. If a greater level of management is necessary, a special, higher priced lane, known as a High-Occupancy Toll, or HOT, lane could be added. The HOT lane can be added to the road as is, or a limited, smaller widening can be pursued to accommodate it.

"Despite the effectiveness of these options at reducing congestion in the long-term, they weren't studied by the Turnpike Authority," said Slevin. "New Jerseyans deserve better."

Errors in modeling may overstate the projected traffic for the corridor by so much that there is no need for widening the road at all. When modeling is corrected, only 1 of the 8 segments of the project area is projected to be over capacity in 2032 – without building any new lanes. The analysis finds that several factors lead to the erroneous conclusions in the environmental review documents. In addition to incomplete modeling procedures, the state relies on several demographic measures that are unrealistic, including job creation in the area, the rate of suburban growth and growth of traffic.

The corridor will be exposed to a series of secondary impacts, such as sprawling development and increased driving, that weren't accounted for in the NJ Turnpike's environmental documents.

"The last thing New Jerseyans need is more sprawling development and more people on the road," said Kyle Wiswall, general counsel at the Campaign. "But according to the analysis, this is exactly what the Turnpike widening will bring."

"The numbers make you wonder just what the purpose of the widening is," Wiswall continued. "There is traffic that needs to be addressed, especially at the 8A merge, but if that can be remedied with cheaper and less damaging methods, why isn't the state looking into it? The report highlights the shaky foundation on which the state justifies a $2.7 billion project."

According to the report, greenhouse gas emissions is one of several impacts that the project's environmental review documents fail to disclose. The state acknowledges that the transportation sector is the largest and fastest growing portion of greenhouse gas emissions, comprising 36% of the state's total in 2004.1 Despite the acknowledged high impact, the environmental review documents do not disclose what the enormous capacity expansion on the highway will mean for emissions.

Others key concerns ignored by the documents include potential increased congestion on surrounding roads, overall higher levels of driving (increased VMT), and the offset of safety gains due to the higher levels of driving.

The full report is available at tstc.org/reports/SMI_Turnpike.pdf.

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1. Global Warming Response Act Recommendation Report, December 15, 2008, p. 14, available at http://www.nj.gov/globalwarming/home/documents/pdf/final_report20081215.pdf.

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The Tri-State Transportation Campaign is a non-profit advocacy and policy organization working for a more balanced, transit-friendly, and equitable transportation system in New Jersey, Connecticut, and downstate New York. www.tstc.org