Coronavirus outbreak not stopping Turnpike toll hike hearings
The public hearings for proposed toll increases on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway will go on despite the COVID-19 outbreak and warnings to stay home and limits on crowd sizes.
Two of the three hearings to increase the toll on the Turnpike by "no more than $1.25" and "no more than 30 cents" on the Parkway will happen 1 to 3 p.m. at Turnpike Authority headquarters in Woodbridge and 6 to 8 p.m. at Camden County College in Sicklerville. Both hearings will be streamed live on the Turnpike Authority website.
A hearing that had been scheduled for Thursday at Ramapo College in Mahwah has been canceled.
"With live streaming and an extended period for the public to submit comments as part of the hearing record, we believe we will be able to protect public health without limiting public participation," Turnpike Authority spokesman Tom Feeney said in a written statement.
Authority staff will keep track of the number of people in the meeting room so as not to exceed 50 people, a limit imposed by Gov. Phil Murphy to encourage social distancing. During the governor's daily briefing about the coronavirus, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver said the state is giving guidance to agencies about how to comply with public meeting laws in these circumstances.
"These hearings are about funding a capital program that will sustain tens of thousands of jobs in the coming years and help maintain a transportation network that provides a competitive edge for New Jersey in the regional, national, and global economies," Feeney said. "In these uncertain economic times, it is important to move ahead with the process in a responsible and transparent manner."
Sierra Club President Jeff Tittel said the hearings should not be held.
“The Turnpike Authority knows that they shouldn’t be holding these hearings. They are deliberately playing games to keep the public out," Tittel said, adding that "hundreds" would turn out to oppose the hike.
"These proposals are a big hit to our wallets because commuters will be paying more to still be stuck in traffic. Instead of waiting to hold these hearings until after the coronavirus emergency is over, they want to go ahead and hold the hearings to push the plans through,” Tittel said.
The Turnpike Authority extended the period to submit written comments until 5 p.m. April 3. Comments can be sent to: Executive Director, NJ Turnpike Authority, 1 Turnpike Plaza, PO Box 5042, Woodbridge, NJ 07095 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The proposed Turnpike projects includes:
- Over height vehicle detection
- Opening exit 19W to the Meadowlands and the American Dream full time and adding a toll plaza
- Exit 17 (Lincoln Tunnel) ramp replacement
- Widening between Exits 1 and 4 at the southern end of the Turnpike
- Widening of the Newark Bay-Hudson County Extension between Exits 14 and 14C
- Alignment at the "mixing bowl" at Exits 15W and 16W
The proposed Parkway projects include:
- Completion of Exits 6,13,17,20, 29, 40, 123-124, 147 and 168
- Widening between Exits 80 and 83
- Widening of the local and express lanes between Exits 98 and 125
- Widening of the road between Exits 129 and 153
The other big change that would come with the increase will be a switch to all-electronic collections and 3% annual increases.
David Matthau contributed to this report.
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