Now that New Jersey has virtually forced out-of-state trucks to use the turnpike by banning trucks on secondary roads, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority wants to raise truck tolls sharply.
As part of what would be the country's most confusing toll pricing system, the authority wants to increase truck tolls 13% in 2001 and another 13% in 2003. For trucks with an E-ZPass electronic toll tag, the increases would be 8% each (E-ZPass is scheduled to go into operation on the Turnpike next May).
The current toll charge for traveling the Turnpike's entire 118 miles is $18.20 for tractor-trailers. Under the new plan, truckers paying cash would fork over more than $23 in 2003.
The proposed hike is even higher for autos - a 20% toll hike in 2001, and another 17% in 2003. For E-ZPass users, the increases would be 8% in 2001 and 10% in 2003. Cars using E-ZPass would see no toll increase in 2001 if they travel during off-peak hours, and only 5% more in 2003. Trucks, however, would get no off-peak toll discount.
The proposal will be officially presented to the Turnpike Authority's commissioners today. If the Turnpike Authority formally approves the proposal, public hearings will be scheduled. Gov. Christie Whitman must approve the proposal, and her office says it will be "a hard sell."
The toll increases would be the first since 1991, when fees went up 70% for cars and 50% for trucks. There was another increase scheduled to go into effect in 1995, but Whitman nixed that and told the Turnpike to find ways to save money instead of raising tolls.
Sheldon Plant, a trucker from New Brunswick, Canada, was irate about the proposal. He told the Associated Press he would stop using the turnpike and take the secondary roads if the higher tolls take effect, despite the ban on such traffic.
"The whole reason they built this turnpike was to streamline traffic. Now they're using it as a cash cow. And they want a fatter cow."
The Turnpike Authority says the toll hikes are needed to pay for more than $900 million in construction projects during the next five years. The projects include a new interchange in Secaucus, and a new highway across southern Middlesex County, Route 92, to connect the Turnpike and Route 1. Route 1 is one of the highways that is now off-limits to through trucks.
The Authority also needs the money for payments on bonds that are coming due from previous road projects.