Senate approves Governor's toll road consolidation plan
Just a month after being proposed by Gov. James E. McGreevey, legislation that would merge the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway was approved today 38-1 by the Senate.
"Today is an important day, not just for the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, but for the entire State and everyone who believes in smarter, more efficient and responsive government," said Governor McGreevey. "For years, many have talked about merging the toll roads and spending taxpayer dollars more wisely. Today, the State Senate took a critical step with the passage of this bipartisan legislation."
Sponsored by Senators Nicholas Sacco, Andrew Ciesla and Leonard T. Connors, Jr., the legislation (S-2352) would enable the Turnpike to assume the operations, facilities and financial obligations of the New Jersey Highway Authority, which operates the Garden State Parkway. The Assembly is expected to take up (A-3392), sponsored by Assemblyman John Wisniewski, Assemblywoman Linda Stender, Assemblyman Jack Conners and Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew, following the April budget break.
Transportation Commissioner Jack Lettiere said consolidation, if enacted by July, will produce $42 million in savings over the next six years, avert a Parkway toll increase, and yield “two roads with uniform purpose, uniform principles and uniform policy.”
“The infrastructure needs on both of these roads have outpaced the resources available, and the lack of coordination has only made the problem worse,” said Lettiere. “The Governor’s consolidation plan gets to the heart of this problem by providing for pooled resources and a unified transportation policy.”
The legislation resulted from the recommendations of a Toll Road Consolidation Commission appointed last year by Governor McGreevey. Lettiere said consolidation will yield $4 million in savings this year, $5.9 million in 2004, $6.6 million in 2005, $7.46 million in 2006, $8.16 million in 2007 and $9.8 million in 2008 and every year thereafter.
Administrative, purchasing, legal, human resources, internal auditing and personnel functions between the two authorities would be merged, under the bill, resulting in a 5 percent staffing reduction.
Debt service for the two authorities -- including $300 million for implementation of EZ Pass -- can be reduced through refinancing, freeing up millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements, such as the repair of the Driscoll Bridge on the Parkway, Lettiere said. Refinancing the EZ Pass debt will avert the need for a Parkway toll increase, he noted.
The legislation would also give the DOT Commissioner a new role in developing the capital program for the toll roads, ensuring that new capital projects comply with the Governor’s Smart Growth criteria. Currently, the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway authorities are not required to submit their capital programs for the Commissioner’s review.
Under Governor McGreevey’s plan, the merger process would begin with the refinancing of the Turnpike and Parkway debt, abolishment of the eight-person Parkway board of directors, merger of administrative operations and appointment of a single, new executive director of the Turnpike.