Yesterday MTR obtained a copy of a letter sent to NJDOT Commissioner Jim Simpson from the NJ Turnpike Authority earlier this month, requesting that the current HOV lanes on the NJ Turnpike between exits 11 and 14 be converted to general purpose lanes. Signed by outgoing Authority Director Diane Scaccetti, the letter sites a change in federal air pollutant criteria, driver confusion, and a bottleneck in the heavily trafficked segment as grounds for removing the carpool restrictions, and suggests that the Authority can maintain its “commitment to reduce traffic congestion … and do its part to improve the environment” by building a 400-space park-and-ride lot at Exit 11 in Woodbridge.
The HOV lanes were established in 1996, after the Turnpike Authority widened the highway, as part of a “mitigation agreement” to reduce impacts on air quality. They are in effect only during peak hours and can be used by vehicles with at least three occupants. They provide carpooling commuters a less congested roadway, incentivizing an inexpensive and sustainable form of transportation for those traveling to areas poorly served by transit. Similarly, buses use the lanes to ensure they reach their destinations on time.
What private or public transit services would stop at the park-and-ride are not explained in the letter. But it would not make up for the loss of the HOV lanes, which would likely hurt transit ridership by giving riders longer, less predictable commutes. A state transportation official suggested to MTR that a new lot might even increase driving by drawing transit customers out of nearby NJ Transit rail stations, such as Metropark, Woodbridge, and Edison.
Scaccetti’s assertion that the air quality problem that prompted the HOV designation “is no longer an issue” simply because federal guidelines have changed says it all when it comes to NJTA’s “commitment” to the environment. This is the same authority that is currently widening the Turnpike between exits 6-9, the Parkway between exits 63-80, and has long-term plans to further widen both roads.
Image: Google Maps.