Jersey Senate panel votes to oppose toll increases

| 1/20/2011

A New Jersey Senate panel has advanced a bill to roll back future toll increases. Tolls were intended to be a revenue source for a now-defunct tunnel plan.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 3-2 on Thursday, Jan. 20, to approve a bill that would cancel toll hikes on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway slated to begin next year. Senate Democrats are pushing the initiative in response to Gov. Chris Christie?s decision to put a stop to plans to build a commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

The Republican governor cited cost overruns for his decision. Instead, he wants to use the money from increased tolls to pay for part of his $8 billion, five-year transportation spending plan.

Truckers and other drivers have been paying more since 2008 to access the roadways. Tolls for heavy commercial vehicles to travel the full length of the turnpike were increased from $26.55 to $37.15 to help pay for the Access to the Region?s Core tunnel project.

Senate Transportation Chairman Nicholas Sacco, D-Hudson, said the governor has no right to use the money elsewhere.

?When tolls were increased along the turnpike and parkway ? it was done so with the understanding that the funds would go to pay for the ARC tunnel,? Sacco, one of the bill?s sponsors, said in an earlier statement. ?When Gov. Christie canceled the ARC tunnel, he forfeited any right to use those increased toll funds.?

The governor?s office says partisan politics are at play. They say terms of prior bond sales counted on the toll revenue and can?t be rolled back.

The bill ? S2636 ? directing the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to adopt a resolution to reduce tolls no longer required for payment of the tunnel project to link New York and New Jersey next moves to the Senate floor. If approved there, it would head to the Assembly.

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