DiFrancesco Unveils Realistic, Responsible Relief
From Traffic Congestion And Tolls On The Parkway
Calls for One-Way, Free-Flow E-ZPass
Instead of Barrier Tolls, $800 Million in Capital
Improvements and Elimination of All Tolls in 10 Years
Acting Governor Donald T. DiFrancesco today unveiled his comprehensive proposal to tackle traffic congestion on the Garden State Parkway (GSP) calling for free-flow, one-way E-ZPass to replace toll barriers; discounts for both peak and off-peak E-ZPass travel; $800 million in capital improvements to reduce congestion for current and future users, including construction of a new Driscoll Bridge and lane expansion in South Jersey; and the total elimination of Parkway tolls in 10 years. It also immediately provides traffic relief on the GSP, Turnpike and Atlantic City Expressway by increasing E-ZPass speeds from 5 to 15 miles per hour (mph) and overhauling the E-ZPass customer service system.
"I believe this plan is not only realistic and responsible, but fair. During the 10-year capital improvement phase of this plan, motorists will benefit from a reduction in tolls. State taxpayers, all of whom benefit from the economic fruits of the tourism industry in one way or another, will share with the users the costs of improving the Parkway. And in the end, the roadway will be toll free.
"In May, I asked the Department of Transportation Commissioner Weinstein to study the feasibility of eliminating the toll barriers on the Garden State Parkway over the next ten years. This isn't a project we undertook lightly. There were many challenges we had to confront, such as $650 million in outstanding Parkway debt and the repayment of obligations associated with the implementation of E-ZPass, not to mention the $95 million a year in maintenance costs for a road considered one of the best maintained in the nation," remarked DiFrancesco.
The acting Governor's plan to reduce traffic congestion does more than eliminate tolls. It calls for $800 million in capital improvements, in addition to interim steps to reduce congestion today.
"Along with eliminating the majority of ramp tolls, we are shifting from the current logjam, barrier approach to a free-flowing, one-way E-ZPass system that allows users to continue driving at normal speeds. While it is easy to say we want to eliminate all tolls immediately, no honest discussion of the Parkway's future can happen without recognition and inclusion of these capital improvements. Without it, the Garden State Parkway will become the Garden State Parking Lot," stated DiFrancesco.
In order to encourage an increase in E-ZPass usage, drivers utilizing the system will realize both an immediate discount to 33 cents for peak travel and 30 cents for off-peak, as well as discounts to 62 cents for peak (31 cents per way) and 55 cents for off-peak (27.5 cents per way) once the high-speed, one-way system is implemented. Immediate solutions also include increasing E-ZPass speeds from 5 to 15 mph, phasing out token use and overhauling E-ZPass customer service.
The Parkway is an important New Jersey roadway providing direct access to the Jersey Shore - a key to the $30 billion and growing tourism industry -- as well as winding through some of the state's most densely populated areas. There is no question that barrier tolls on the GSP have outlived its usefulness. Since the Parkway opened, much has changed and it is high time that the roadway be adapted to the times.
When the Parkway opened in 1955, it had two lanes in each direction and carried 39 million cars. Today, the Parkway has nearly doubled the number of lane miles and carriers approximately 400 million cars, with an additional 25 percent increase in travel expected over the next decade. Despite being the second busiest toll road in America it is also the least expensive - costing only 22 cents per mile. This proposal puts the state on target to reduce congestion and meet future needs.
The $800 million in capital improvements includes doubling capacity over the Raritan Bay through construction of a new Driscoll Bridge and reconstruction of the existing 48 year-old span, expanding to three lanes from mile post 83 in Ocean County to 30 in Atlantic County, improving the Interchange between the GSP and Rte. 78, and constructing grade separations in Cape May County.
The 10-year phase-out will have an approximately $890 million financial impact on the State Budget General Fund over the next 10 years and will cost $215 million annually starting in year 11.
The acting Governor intends to submit his plan to the legislature and seek action on bills to effectuate these changes and provide funding for the first phase of the plan this fall.
"In the end, I determined that a toll holiday was far too costly, too complicated, and posed too much of a risk to the safety of the motoring public. While I originally believed the holiday would cost between $300,000-400,000, its actual cost is closer to $900,000. It is a risk I simply am not willing to take or force motorists to take. The risk and the cost of a holiday far outweigh the reward. And besides, I don't want a one-day symbol. I want a reasoned, responsible plan to relieve Parkway congestion - every day.
"When it comes to this critical artery, we don't need a symbol -- we need realistic, responsible relief from traffic congestion and tolls. This is that plan," concluded the acting Governor.
A fact sheet is attached.
GARDEN STATE PARKWAY CONGESTION RELIEF PLAN
REASONABLE, RESPONSIBLE, REALISTIC RELIEF
- The Garden State Parkway will be toll-free in 2012
- The cost of removing the toll barriers and the cost of replacing the system with free-flow, hi-speed E-ZPass is virtually identical and allows the state to implement a realistic and responsible long-term congestion relief plan
- The four-phase, 10-year plan to make the Garden State Parkway congestion and toll-free will be achieved by:
- Implementing a one-way, hi-speed E-ZPass toll system and eliminating the toll barriers. The barrier system as we know it today will be gone. Virtually all ramp tolls will be eliminated. Tolls will be collected in only one direction, either north or south.
- Locating cash collection booths on the sides of the roadway for non-E-ZPass users
- Demolishing the most congested toll barriers first: Raritan South Barrier, Essex North Barrier and Watchung South Ramp, and installing hi-speed E-ZPass on Raritan North, Essex South and Watchung North Ramp
- Responsible congestion relief requires more than the elimination of tolls. This plan calls for an $800 billion capital construction project to meet projected growth. Major projects include:
- Construction of a new Driscoll bridge over Raritan Bay and reconstruction of the existing 48-year-old span resulting in a doubling of capacity ($175 million)
- Construction of an interchange between Garden State Parkway North and Route 78 ($58.7 million)
- Widening of the Garden State Parkway to three lanes in each direction from milepost 83 in Ocean County to milepost 30 in Atlantic County, the fastest growing area in the state. ($249 million)
- Construction of grade separations in Cape May County to replace the dangerous congestion at grade intersections that currently exist ($65 million)
- An additional $300 million in interchange improvements, advanced traffic monitoring systems and other roadway improvements
- As a barrier is removed and free-flow, hi-speed E-ZPass installed in its place, the toll structure at that location will be discounted as follows:
- Cash (all times)
- E-ZPass (Peak)
- E-ZPass (non-peak)
- Financial Impact:
- Total 10-year cost to the state budget is $894.6 million
- Cost to budget after complete plan is $215 million per year
The following steps will be taken to afford immediate congestion relief along the Garden State Parkway:
- Improve performance at the Customer Service Center by purchasing additional computers and telecommunications equipment that will reduce caller wait times and provide additional automated options to callers.
- Offer an E-ZPass discount ranging from .33 cents for peak hour driving to .30 cents for off-peak driving
- Phase-out token use, and allow tokens to be exchanged for E-ZPass credit
- Increase the speed through E-ZPass only lanes from 5mph to 15 mph on the Turnpike, Parkway and Atlantic City Expressway. According to transportation experts, this can be implemented safely if motorists abide by the 15 mph limit.
- Development of software that will minimize the maxfare issue. Each month this issue results in thousands of customers being charged the maximum toll for traveling the road because they are not being properly registered by the E-ZPass equipment. Smart technology will substantially reduce the number of calls to the Customer Service Center. About 40 percent of the calls into the service center relate to this issue. This step will improve customer service.