Tri-State has released an independent analysis of the NJ Turnpike Interchange 6-9 widening that finds that the $2.7 billion project is unnecessary and the same congestion relief can be achieved by less expensive and environmentally threatening methods. The proposed widening would add 170 lane-miles of new road giving new life to sprawling land use patterns and flying in the face of NJ’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The analysis, which was prepared by Smart Mobility, Inc. and commissioned by Tri-State, found multiple errors in the NJ Turnpike Authority’s traffic calculations that overstate future traffic for the corridor. In addition, it was discovered that NJTA’s traffic model only incorporated one of the four standard inputs that most transportation agencies run in their models. As a result, congestion figures were not properly calibrated and ended up overstating traffic volumes.
Specifically, the report highlights six deficiencies in the project’s environmental documents that lead to an overstatement of traffic growth in the corridor:
- The failure to include the impacts of recent toll increases or programmed future toll increases;
- Reliance on unrealistic levels of future jobs in the study area;
- Overestimation of suburban growth;
- Omission of impact of widening on future land use;
- Failure to account for reduced driving by senior citizens;
- The possible overstatement of growth in through and freight traffic.
With the corrected numbers and modeling, the utility of widening the Turnpike disappears. Smart Mobility’s corrected model projects that, even if no new lanes are built, only 1 of the 8 segments of the project area will be over capacity in 2032.
Given the lower current and predicted traffic, an expansion of the variable tolling program already in use on the Turnpike could provide any congestion relief needed. Currently, Turnpike tolls vary 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 could be managed in a way that keeps traffic flowing at trouble spots like the exit 8A merge. If a greater level of management is necessary, a High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane could be added. The HOT lane can be added to the road as it currently exists, or a limited, smaller widening can be pursued to accommodate it.
NJ residents would be better served if the state spent money on projects that created more jobs, like fix-it first projects or transit expansions. As it stands, the multi-billion dollar Turnpike expansion is nothing but a drain of dollars and continued congestion for New Jersey.
View the full report here.