Gov. Corzine has been touring the state in an effort to garner support for his unpopular plan to bond against increased tolls in order to reduce state debt and fund transportation projects. On Monday, the Tri-State Campaign took a trip down to Camden to check out the show. Tri-State, along with many environmental groups in the state, is opposing the fiscal restructuring plan because it includes about $3 billion in old-fashioned highway expansion projects.
Standing in front of an enormous “Save. Our. State.” banner, Corzine slogged through his Powerpoint presentation about the basics of the plan before opening up the floor for questions. As at many state hearings and town hall meetings, “opening the floor for questions” equated to little more than a slight rewording of highlights as frustrated residents vented their concerns while attempting to adhere to the “one question, no follow-ups” format.
Despite the Governor’s stated intentions to reduce NJ’s car dependency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and step up the freight rail network investment, the toll plan will fund three major road projects, the widenings of the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and Atlantic City Expressway. These projects will cost billions, cause hundreds of acres of wetlands displacement, and will not provide sustainable congestion relief. So, TSTC asked the Governor, why should New Jersey, a (former) national leader in smart growth planning, sign on to a financial restructuring plan committed to such expensive and ineffective projects?
His response included a few vague references to safety and truck traffic but ultimately came to “because it will reduce traffic.” Gov. Corzine might want to review his agencies’ studies with a more discerning eye. As currently designed, neither the Turnpike nor the Garden State Parkway project included in the Governor’s plan will provide long-term congestion relief, and in fact, parts of new lanes on the Parkway will be filled with traffic as soon as construction is complete. (see MTR #s 552, 565). Tri-State and others have been asking the Governor for a review of cheaper and more effective alternatives, such as high occupancy toll lanes, which are carpool lanes that solo drivers pay a premium toll to access. Such alternatives are more likely to preserve the new capacity of the wider highways, providing longer term congestion relief.
Ironically, the Background Briefing on Corzine’s own website agrees that HOT are a good investment. That document contains a chart showing the feasibility and value analysis he used to identify which assets would generate significant value. HOT lanes are deemed both highly valuable and feasible, yet are the only top tier options not being considered by the Governor.
Meanwhile, New Jersey has a backlog of unfinished smart-growth-oriented projects in the NJDOT’s NJFIT program that promote compact, walkable, bicycle-friendly land use – in other words, streets that work for everyone. The state should pursue these projects and abandon plans that add lanes and don’t offer long term congestion relief.