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Environmental, Transportation Groups
Call for High-Speed E-ZPass Lanes Now 

Trenton - Today five environmental and transportation reform groups urged Acting Governor Donald DiFrancesco, state legislators, and New Jersey's three toll authorities to make immediate investments in high-speed toll collection facilities at selected toll plazas across the state. 

The call comes two weeks after toll authorities began stricter enforcement of the existing 5mph speed limit for E-ZPass-only lanes, to the widespread frustration of drivers. 

On Wednesday, August 1st, New Jersey Transportation Commissioner James Weinstein is expected to present a report to Acting Governor DiFrancesco regarding the removal of barrier toll plazas on the Garden State Parkway.

“The installation of high-speed toll collection lanes would be the best congestion-busting investment the state could make,” said Janine Bauer, Executive Director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “The toll plaza speed limit problem shows you can’t improve tolls by strapping new technology into antiquated toll booths.  It’s the toll booths, stupid.” 

The groups called on the state's elected leaders to work with the toll authorities to identify funds for the immediate installation of high-speed toll collection on the Garden State Parkway.  They put forward a variety of locations as potential sites for model high-speed toll lanes:

  • New Jersey Turnpike: Exit 18 at the Turnpike's northern terminus near the George Washington Bridge, where the toll plaza crosses the length of the highway.  The NJ Turnpike has already installed the first high-speed facility in the state at Exit 6 and has plans for another at its southern terminus at Exit 1 near the Delaware Memorial Bridge.

  • Garden State Parkway: The Tom's River Plaza and Barnegat Plaza on the Garden State Parkway are located on straight-aways.  The Union Plaza could be retrofit or rebuilt as part of the planned Parkway/I-78 interchange reconstruction.  The Raritan Plaza should be rebuilt as a high-speed facility as part of the reconstruction of the Raritan River Bridge and its approaches.

A high-speed E-ZPass lane can process 50% more cars per hour (1800 vehicles) than an 
E-ZPass-only lane in an old-style toll plaza (1200 vehicles).  In fact, turning today’s E-ZPass-only lane into a high-speed lane would result in an improvement in toll collection speed on the same order as the Parkway’s change from token-only lanes to E-ZPass lanes.

The collection technology now used on state toll roads is capable of reading the E-ZPass tags of drivers traveling at normal highway speeds.  To allow these high speeds, existing toll plazas must be redesigned - toll booths removed, lanes widened - or replaced with simple overhead gantries, with a pull-off siding for cash-payers.  A new high-speed facility is now in operation at the New Jersey Turnpike’s junction with the Pennsylvania Turnpike (Exit 6), as well as on toll roads in Delaware, Colorado, Texas, and California.

“High speed tolls are the most effective way to remove congestion from the Parkway,” said Curtis Fisher, Executive Director of the NJ Public Interest Research Group Citizen Lobby. “But toll removal would be an environmental and financial disaster for Parkway drivers and the state.”

“High-speed toll plazas should have been part of E-ZPass installation from the beginning,” said Jeff Tittel, Executive Director of the Sierra Club’s New Jersey Chapter. “Smart toll collection makes better use of existing highways so we can stop laying asphalt and save more land for open space.”

Following an Executive Order by Acting Governor DiFrancesco, the Department of Transportation is studying replacement of Garden State Parkway barrier toll plazas with high-speed toll facilities as an alternative to the removal of tolls from highway.  A comparison of the costs and benefits of these options is expected to be released on Wednesday.

“Most Parkway drivers don’t object to tolls, they are frustrated by the delays caused by congestion at the toll plazas,” said Marie Curtis, Executive Director of the New Jersey Environmental Lobby. “Getting rid of tolls will increase traffic and pollution, because drivers now using other highways and local roads will instead choose the Parkway.”

The Garden State Parkway estimates that refitting its 11 large plazas with high speed toll lanes would cost $125 million.  The cost of demolishing the plazas entirely would likely cost more. 

If tolls are removed, state taxpayers would become responsible for both the Parkway $150 million operating expenses (this figure does not include toll collection) and the $50 million-plus annual debt service on the highway's $620 million in outstanding bonds.  The highway's high priority construction projects with a total projected cost of at least $300 million would compete with other highway and transit projects for state and federal funds.

In addition, $190 million in annual toll revenue would be lost, $40 million of which is paid by out-of-state drivers.  As a result, the state would no longer be able to count $30 million of 
 Parkway revenue as federal matching funds annually, an outcome that could result in fewer Federal transportation dollars for New Jersey.

“State and federal transportation funding is limited,” said Dave Pringle of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.  “We can remove tolls from the Parkway and push much needed transit investment off indefinitely.  Or we can invest in high-speed toll plazas, have the money we need to build more train lines and buy more buses,  reduce congestion and clean up our air.”

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