Steep toll hikes on NJ Turnpike, Parkway this weekend

NEWARK - For the second time in three years, toll rates are going up on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway.

The latest increases - which go into effect 6:30 a.m. New Year's Day - will raise fares on both highways by about 50 percent.

Tolls also are going up at 12:01 a.m. New Year's Day on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, but only by 10 percent and for cash fares only. (http://bit.ly/v2YGoV)

The New Jersey toll hikes are enough to drive Christine McGough off the road.

"That's why I'm going to start taking the train," said McGough, who drives more than 50 miles each way from her home in the Bradley Beach area of Monmouth County to her job at a law firm in Newark.

The hikes are the second phase of a two-part increase approved in 2008 under then-Gov. Jon Corzine. The first increase, at the end of 2008, amounted to about 40 percent on both the parkway and turnpike.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority sought the increases to fund $7 billion in improvements over the next 10 years. Critics have assailed the authority and Gov. Christopher J. Christie for not finding a way to replenish New Jersey's Transportation Trust Fund, the source of funding for transportation projects, without toll increases.

"Their mismanagement is a burden on Ocean County, and the increase that will take place is unfair and unreasonable and a hardship on the Jersey shore," said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph Vicari, who issued a news release last week reminding residents about the toll increases. "It's another tax on hardworking, middle-class people."

In an interview Thursday on WOR-AM radio, Christie said he was upset about the toll increase but there was nothing he could do to stop it because his predecessor committed to it as part of a deal to borrow money.

"This is, I hope, one of the last vestiges of the Jon Corzine years," Christie said.

The increases raise the price of driving the length of the turnpike from $9.05 to $13.85 for cash-paying customers. E-ZPass customers who now pay $6.80 will pay $10.40. Two-axle trucks will pay $28.45, up from $18.60.

The average passenger vehicle trip on the turnpike is between 20 and 25 miles, turnpike spokesman Tom Feeney said. That trip will cost about $3.30 beginning Sunday, compared with $2.20 now.

Those figures seem relatively benign, but for McGough they represented the last straw. She estimated that, counting gas, tolls and parking, her commute costs her $440 per month. The toll increases, though only adding a few dollars per day, would push the monthly cost to about $490.

So, McGough instead will buy a monthly round-trip rail pass on NJ Transit for $308.

"I had never really calculated it, but when I started adding it up I just went, 'Holy cow!"' she said. "That's almost an extra $200 in my pocket. And better to have it in my pocket than somebody else's."

Feeney said turnpike officials anticipate other drivers will follow McGough's example or drive on local roads but a mass defection isn't expected.

"That is an inevitability," he said. "Whenever tolls go up, there is diversion and that's built into the revenue projections. But the history has been that the diversion has generally been short-term."