New Jersey Turnpike Authority commissioners last week voted unanimously to authorize public hearings on a plan to raise tolls.

There is little room to build more highways in the state, says Frank McDermott, Turnpike Authority chairman, so the state needs to improve existing ones, making the toll increase necessary.
The proposal would raise tolls for trucks by 13% in 2001 and another 13% in 2003. Trucks and cars using E-ZPass automated tolls would get discounts. Cars would also get discounts for driving in off-peak hours, but no such discounts are planned for trucks. (Peak hours are defined as 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays.) To travel the entire 118 miles of turnpike, it currently costs a tractor-trailer $18.20.
Sam Cunninghame, executive director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Assn., supports the plan because planned improvements would be good for truckers. Among the plans are a full-service truckstop. The association has opposed toll increases in the past.
The plan calls for $220.1 million in debt service restructuring, which would mean about $40 million in savings, according to the Turnpike Authority. New projects would be funded by a $917 million bond issue.
Gov. Christie Whitman, who has opposed toll increases in the past, is willing to listen to the new proposal. The idea of variable increases based on peak and off-peak times reportedly makes her more amenable to this proposal.