you think all that toll money you've paid to the New Jersey Turnpike
has gone for turnpike improvements or repairs, think again.
a report published Jan. 2 by the Newark Star-Ledger, the turnpike
has generated so much cash it has been able to shell out money to
a number of non-turnpike projects - and still keep more than a half-billion
dollars in reserve.
the New Jersey Turnpike Authority raised tolls Jan. 1, increasing
cash tolls 17 percent and E-ZPass tolls 10 percent at rush hour and
5 percent during other times.
The higher tolls
- which media reports said would raise about $41 million - are part
of a two-stage toll hike the turnpike authority said would help pay
for a $917 million capital improvement program.
Some of those
capital improvement projects are moving forward. However, Jan. 2,
the newspaper reported the turnpike authority had used truckers' and
other motorists' tolls for several other projects, including:
- The Driscoll
Bridge over the Raritan River on the Garden State Parkway, $135
- A new train
station in Secaucus, $84 million.
- Bailing out
the E-ZPass Consortium, $30 million.
After those projects
and other costs, the turnpike still has reserves in excess of $600
Lines are being
drawn over how the turnpike money should be used. Watchdog groups
in the state have criticized the diversion of turnpike funds. And
they are not alone.
question turnpike money should never be spent on non-turnpike projects,"
Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent
Drivers Association, said. "But the bigger and far more important
question for now and the future is whether these entities should exist
turnpike authorities exist without meaningful oversight and accountability
to anyone while they fleece truckers and travelers," he said.
"It's a load of crap and no one of integrity should suggest otherwise."
The effect of
increased tolls on trucking could be significant.
Press reported Dec. 31 that the turnpike toll increases, a sluggish
economy, skyrocketing Delaware River tolls and a possible war-related
rise in fuel prices could combine to create significant difficulties
for truckers who use New Jersey's roads.
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.
The money will
likely continue to go to uses outside of the turnpike. The state would
like to merge the cash-rich turnpike with the money-poor Garden State
Parkway, allowing the reserves to boost the poorer road, the Star-Ledger reported.
The new toll
increase brings the cost for a standard, five-axle tractor-trailer
to $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.