New Jersey bill taps rest areas for new revenue

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An effort nearing passage at the New Jersey statehouse would tap major highways to raise new revenue without raising taxes

The Senate Transportation Committee voted unanimously to advance a bill that would direct the Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority to study and report on additional opportunities to make money along the state’s three toll highways by providing new and better services at rest areas and welcome centers. Services could include business, commercial or retail along the New Jersey Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and Atlantic City Expressway.

“Every person who travels these highways is a potential customer,” Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, said in a news release.

The bill, A801, awaits further consideration on the Senate floor. If approved there, it would head to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk. Assembly lawmakers already approved it on a 75-1 vote.

Assemblyman Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, has says the new revenue stream is needed to help lawmakers look for creative ways to boost revenue.

“Our current transportation infrastructure demands that we think outside the box to find new revenue sources to help meet our long-term needs,” Coughlin stated.

In 2013, Gov. Chris Christie issued a conditional veto on the bill. The conditional veto gave lawmakers recommendations for changes that needed to be made to the bill to satisfy the governor.

The revised bill includes analyses of best practices at rest areas and service plazas in neighboring states; and whether the authority is maximizing revenues from billboards, cellphone towers, and other advertising.

The toll roads would be given 12 months to submit their reports to state lawmakers and the governor.

“Finding new revenue sources without raising taxes is crucial, particularly in an economy like this,” stated Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex.

Utah, Louisiana and New Hampshire have taken action during the past year to explore rest stops and service plazas as a potential funding source. Similar programs are running in other states.

The Utah Department of Transportation is authorized to make sponsorship signs available at rest stops to help defray costs related to highway related services.

Rep. John Knotwell, R-Herriman, said that sponsorships allow the state to stretch a limited transportation budget for maintenance without raising taxes.

UDOT is also authorized to sell banner ads for its online traffic application.

In Louisiana, the state Department of Transportation and Development has the authority to charge fees for sponsorship signs on state-owned property, including the state’s nine rest areas.

The DOTD’s Shawn Wilson said the rule allows the state to take advantage of federal law that authorizes states to provide sponsorships at rest areas.

Elsewhere, a New Hampshire law authorizes the state to pursue selling sponsorships or naming rights to the 16-state-operated rest areas.

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