NJ toll increases and other troubles stand to hurt trucking

| 1/2/2003

The New Jersey Turnpike toll increase that will go into effect New Year's Day for cars and trucks is hardly a surprise, being the second of a two-part hike approved nearly three years ago.

But with a sluggish economy, skyrocketing Delaware River tolls, and a possible war-related rise in fuel prices all having materialized since then, truckers in particular are bracing for a hard road ahead, The Associated Press reports.

Tolls will rise 13 percent for cash-paying truckers at all times and 8 percent for E-ZPass users under a toll increase approved by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority in 2000 under then-Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.

In dollar terms, the new toll for a standard, five-axle tractor-trailer will be $23.20 for the 118-mile length of the road, which runs from the Delaware Memorial Bridge to the George Washington Bridge. That's up from $20.55. The same trip using E-ZPass will be $21.20, up from $19.65.

Gail Toth, executive director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association, an industry group, said the gradual nature of the two-part hike softened its impact on truckers, especially compared with river toll hikes.

However, the bridge and turnpike toll increases could be compounded by rising gasoline and diesel prices that would result from the destabilization in the Middle East if the United States goes to war with Iraq, Toth said.

Meanwhile, other trucking officials say the industry is extremely competitive, with profit margins in the low single digits, and is sensitive to even seemingly small increases in tolls and other costs.