Murphy Makes Surprise Decision on Big NJ Toll Hikes
TRENTON — Commuters bracing for the fourth round of toll hikes in three years on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway can breathe a sigh of relief.
On Tuesday, the Turnpike Authority commissioners unanimously approved a $2.62 billion budget that would increase the cost of commuting using New Jersey's two major toll roads.
Their budget included a 3% hike on all Turnpike and GSP tolls. The hikes would have supported a $100 million budget increase, which the authority said would have added dozens of new employees.
Murphy will veto toll hikes
But Murphy will veto the proposed Turnpike Authority budget, the governor announced on social media Thursday.
"I am not satisfied with the justification provided for the toll increases reflected in the budget and need more information for why the board is taking this step," Murphy said.
Murphy had faced bipartisan pressure to reject the toll hikes.
The top two Democrats in the state legislature, Senate President Nick Scutari and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin issued a joint statement urging the governor to block the increases. The financial burden of toll hikes would be too much for families already burdened with the effects of inflation, they said.
Toll hike veto a good start, but not enough
Joseph Vicari, director of the Ocean County Commissioners, commended Murphy for the decision to reject the Turnpike Authority's budget.
But Vicari, a Republican, said the veto pen should have come out two years ago. He said rising costs of food and housing are enough for families to deal with; they shouldn't have to pay more to commute to make a living.
"It's the right thing. We're on the right direction. But more has to be done to make it affordable for the average working man and woman that work in Ocean County, that leave Ocean County and travel both to New York City and to Philadelphia," Vicari said.
He said the Turnpike Authority needed to be more realistic with its budgets and base them on what people can afford.
Why do NJ tolls go up every year?
The annual toll hikes began after the Turnpike Authority changed its indexing system. It caps increases at 3% each year but makes it much easier to pass annual increases.
Part of what streamlined the process of raising tolls was the removal of a requirement to hold public hearings before passing increases. This removed the chance for motorists to raise concerns to the Turnpike Authority in a public setting.
Vicari said that there needs to be some local input in the budget process for the Turnpike Authority.
"Ocean County has no representation at all on the Garden State Parkway. Most of the Garden State Parkway goes through Ocean County and we've been asking for years to give us some representation," Vicari said.
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Gallery Credit: Erin Vogt, Eric Scott