Vol. LXII, No. 7
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Gov. Jon S. Corzine was in Hightstown Saturday during a Mercer County stop on a 21-county, statewide tour, shopping his proposal to increase tolls on the state’s busiest highways to offset state debt and to fund transportation initiatives. Despite meeting widespread resistance, the governor reasserted his challenge to the Legislature to find an alternate plan for digging the state out of debt.
Mr. Corzine addressed the capacity crowd at the Hightstown High School auditorium amid worries voiced by residents of the county’s 13 municipalities. While the issues addressed were wide ranging, the primary areas of concern were on state spending, and increases in truck traffic on local roads, and from the Princeton vantage point, the possibility of increased truck traffic on routes 206 and 27.
Throughout his presentation, Mr. Corzine emphasized the need to help support his financial restructuring and debt reduction plan, first introduced early this year, by creating a new revenue stream that would finance at least half of $32 billion transportation programs and state debt.
“The fact is,” he said, “the bulk of our problems have been covered by borrowing, either in the market place, the pension and healthcare systems, or from the unemployment trust fund.
“Lots of different kinds of gimmicks and tricks have been used to fix what is now an annual budget crisis,” Mr. Corzine said.
The signature component in Mr. Corzine’s plan is to increase tolls on the Garden State Parkway, the New Jersey Turnpike, and the Atlantic City Expressway by 50 percent in 2010, 2012, 2018, and 2022. After 2022, additional increases would occur every four years through 2085 adjusted for inflation. A non-profit organization, the New Jersey Capital Solutions Corp., would be assembled to replace the Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority.
Route 440 in Middlesex County had been one of the affected roads, but the governor announced Sunday at his Middlesex County stop that he had dropped it from his plan.
Republicans in the State House are united in opposition, and some key Democrats have expressed reservations, but Mr. Corzine maintained that 45 percent the state’s tolls are collected from vehicles passing though, and that other forms of taxation, including a gas tax, would present “much heavier burdens on New Jerseyans.”
Mr. Corzine pointed to the widening of Route 1, the proposed Hudson River rail tunnel, and maintenance on 700 bridges statewide, that, while not unsafe, he said, “need work.”
In the Princetons, the Corzine plan has amplified concerns over an increase in truck traffic along some key local arteries in the region, particularly Routes 206 and 27. The Princetons suffered a setback in December 2007, when the State Department of Transportation denied a request to remove the two roads from a state designation that allows for the passage of large trucks, specifically 102-inch-wide standard trucks and double trailer truck combinations.
Members of the local advocacy group, Citizens for a Safer Route 206, were in attendance Saturday, expressing fears that an increase in tolls would deter trucks from driving on toll roads, and consequently increase traffic on local roads.
“I think this plan has some unintended consequences,” said Township resident Don Greenberg, citing a Tri-State Transportation Campaign study projecting diversions in truck traffic from toll roads to local roads, commensurate with toll increases. He also referenced DOT’s truck standards for its designated truck-routing map. “The new truck rules do nothing to stop trucks from traveling on the free roads,” Mr. Greenberg said.
In response, Mr. Corzine said that increased toll revenue would help to finance programs to switch trucks and cargo containers to rail. “We have failed to develop a legitimate system for freight movement by rail in this state,” he said, citing the Liberty Corridor initiative that would create a rail system out of the Port of New York/New Jersey. “Once you get that opened up, it will significantly dampen the truck impact,” Mr. Corzine said.
Borough resident Arch Davis worried that wear on local roads from potential increases in truck traffic would have to be addressed through an increase in local debt service.
Josh Leinsdorf, a Borough resident and member of the Princeton Regional Board of Education who has made transportation and busing issues central to his incumbency, urged a stronger statewide emphasis on mass transit.
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