Lettiere appears before Assembly
committee in support of toll road plan
(Trenton) - Transportation Commissioner Jack Lettiere told the Assembly Transportation Committee that consolidating the state’s two largest toll road authorities will provide for less costly debt service that will free up millions of dollars for necessary infrastructure improvements and quicker E-ZPass implementation.
“I feel very strongly that consolidation of the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway is the smart thing to do and the right thing to do for New Jersey,” Lettiere said. “Governor McGreevey’s toll road consolidation plan also restructures the debt of the two authorities which will make millions available for badly needed construction projects and will put E-ZPass on more solid financial footing.”
Legislation (A-3392), sponsored by Assemblymembers John Wisniewski, Linda Stender, Jack Conners and Jeff Van Drew, would create a single new authority that will enable the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to assume the operations, facilities and financial obligations of the New Jersey Highway Authority, which operates the Garden State Parkway. A similar bill was approved by the Senate in March.
Commissioner Lettiere said consolidation, if enacted by July, can 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.”
“This plan provides for integrated strategic transportation planning and capital investment. Funds will be allocated where they are needed most and for the first time the capital program of the new authority will be coordinated with that of the Department of Transportation,” said Lettiere.
The legislation being considered in the Assembly resulted from the recommendations of a Toll Road Consolidation Commission appointed last year by Governor McGreevey. Lettiere said consolidation can 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 five percent staffing reduction.
Debt service for the two authorities -- including $300 million for implementation of E-ZPass -- 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 E-ZPass debt will avert the need for a Parkway toll increase, he noted.
The legislation would also give the transportation 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.