The Tri-State Transportation Campaign and Eastern Environmental Law Center filed suit today in State Appellate Court against the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s approvals of the NJ Turnpike Authority’s plans to widen the Garden State Parkway one lane in each direction from exits 30 to 80.
New Jersey is seeking to use federal stimulus money to pay for the Parkway widening. The Campaign warned against using stimulus money for the project and released a list of other “shovel-ready” projects that would provide more and better congestion relief while stimulating the economy.
“Funding highway expansion projects to stimulate the economy represents a lose-lose. Investing in mass transit and fixing our crumbling roads and bridges will produce more jobs, reduce traffic congestion, and have less impact on our natural resources,” said Kate Slevin, executive director of the Campaign. “According to the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, mass transit construction and maintaining our existing roads and bridges generate, respectively, 19% and 9% more jobs than building new roads.”
The environmental documents for the Parkway project indicate that portions of the wider road will be filled with traffic as soon as construction is complete (see MTR #552).
“The Turnpike Authority has not made the case that this project will provide any long term congestion relief, nor has it seriously investigated more effective, cheaper alternatives,” said Kyle Wiswall, general counsel for the Campaign.
Tri-State is challenging NJDEP’s approval of three permits, a Freshwater Wetlands permit, Waterfront Development permit and a Coastal Wetlands permit – all three approved without public notice.
“The New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s application fails to justify the expansion of the Parkway through some of the most environmentally sensitive areas of the state, including the shore’s tidal wetlands and the Pinelands Preserve,” said Wiswall.
The organization cautioned that neither the Parkway nor the NJ Turnpike are eligible for federal stimulus funds, noting that neither project has undergone the legal scrutiny necessary to receive federal dollars. Both projects are currently on the state’s proposed economic stimulus list but neither has undergone environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA approval is necessary to receive federal funds.
Specifically, the group’s suit contends that the permit applications:
- Do not accurately characterize current traffic conditions, ignoring that serious congestion occurs only on summer weekends;
- Fail to take dropping traffic volumes into account, instead relying on outdated and incorrect projections;
- Ignore the secondary impacts, or development that will result in the corridor due to the expanded capacity;
- Fail to seriously consider alternatives to widening, such as mass transit and traffic management. Alternatives such as these could achieve the same goals, including job creation, without wasting money and resources or threatening critical wildlife habitat with sprawling development.