Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 9
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
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Township Tries Bureaucratic Speed Humps, Asking Corzine to Revise Toll Hike Plan

Matthew Hersh

Township Hall Monday night attempted to confront the possibility of increased truck traffic due to the Corzine administration’s toll increase proposal, a plan that Township officials and traffic advocates worry could manifest itself in gridlock on the state’s local roads.

A truck traffic diversion resolution breezed through Township Committee, as the governing body praised the administration for “addressing ways to rein in the state budget, to pay down the state’s debt, and to fund New Jersey’s most pressing infrastructure needs,” but criticized the plan for leaving out price incentives and stricter regulations in order to keep truck flow on the National Network of roadways — the first tier in a hierarchy of roads that relate to truck use.

The resolution called on the state to eliminate a “no backtracking” provision in the state’s truck routing regulations that, some worry, could allow trucks of a specific size to leave the National Network for Trucks, without having to return to a road with that designation. Committee also requested a change to the large truck rules taking into consideration the concern of a multi-municipal coalition that has fought new truck regulations, and to develop “universally applicable criteria” for local roads to be excluded from the New Jersey Access Network.

Specifically, the resolution cited the state commissioned Steer Davies Gleave Study that finds that car tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike, at $.055 per mile, are lower than the national average of $.09 to $.14 per mile, but that truck tolls on the Turnpike are roughly at the national average of $.22 per mile.

Elevated truck tolls, Committee’s resolution said, could create a diversion of truck traffic on to the state’s non-toll roads. The resolution cited the Gleave study’s prediction that the governor’s proposal could result in a 14 percent diversion of trucks after the first 50 percent hike to almost 40 percent after the plan’s final increase in 2022.

The flagship element of Mr. Corzine’s financial restructuring and debt reduction plan would be 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.

As was the case at his February 9 appearance at Hightstown High School, Mr. Corzine stood by his toll hike plan Tuesday when he announced that he intended to cut $500 million from the state’s $33 billion budget, eliminate the state departments of Agriculture, Personnel, and the Commerce Commission, and cut back 3,000 of the 68,430 jobs on the state payroll, challenging the Legislature to find a better way to pay down the state’s $32 billion debt.

But the Princetons, through municipal action and local advocacy represented by the Citizens for a Safer Route 206, have attempted to stave off truck traffic along the corridor, as well as Route 27. The effort started with a $100,000 DOT-issued grant in order to address design needs and traffic reconfiguration, but it quickly escalated after the state rejected a municipal proposal to include trucks less than 102-inches-wide to the DOT’s new truck routing regulations, and not standard sized tractor trailers.

Township Committeeman Chad Goerner, who has met with DOT Commissioner Kris Kolluri on the new regulations, worried recently that the new truck rules are “loose enough to allow the very largest of trucks” onto the New Jersey Access Network, the second tier in the roads hierarchy.

Mr. Kolluri’s office has tried to quell those concerns by saying that the rules require all large trucks, regardless of origin or destination, to get to or remain on the National Network unless making a trip to a terminal. Further, the rules require all trips off of the National Network onto a N.J. Access Network road to be by the shortest possible distance.

In spite of the state’s conciliatory tone, Committee is asking for a limit on truck toll increases to the rate of inflation, and for a tightening of the truck rules so that trucks remain on interstate, toll-paying roads.

Committee also requested a phased-in gas tax increase “to replace funds that would otherwise have been collected by higher tolls on trucks,” urging increases over the next 20 years.

Borough Council is expected to consider a similar ordinance at its March 4 meeting.

In other news, Township Committee approved a plan to build a four-foot wide concrete sidewalk on the eastern side of Ewing Street, extending between Guyot Avenue and the Princeton Borough municipal line at Franklin Avenue.

Following up on a February 11 introduction, Committee also adopted a code that authorizes an emergency appropriation to conduct a joint municipal undertaking for a complete revaluation of all real estate in the Borough and Township for tax equalization purposes.

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