Ocean County Press Release
TOMS RIVER – With almost 40-miles of the Garden State Parkway running through Ocean County, and limited transportation options, commuters here will be among the hardest hit should there be an increase in tolls, said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari.
Despite the New Jersey Turnpike Authority Board of Commissioners not announcing the amount of the proposed increases even though it took action on establishing public hearings, the Board of Freeholders, in a preemptive strike, on March 4 passed a resolution opposing any toll increase on the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike and called upon the state to reconsider this potential action.
"Ocean County continues to be a growing county in the state and with this growth we need to move people to and from jobs, medical appointments, and recreational activities just to name a few destinations," Vicari said. "To do this our residents heavily rely on the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike."
Vicari said that toll hikes bring little benefits to the citizens of Ocean County as much of the money collected helps subsidize transportation in northern New Jersey including rail.
"New Jersey has not given Ocean County's motorists any traveling options," Vicari said. "This Board has long supported a rail line as a transportation alternative in Ocean County. Yet after years and years of studies, this has not moved forward by the state."
Vicari said Ocean County also needs representation on the New Jersey Turnpike Authority Board of Commissioners.
"There is currently a seat open on the authority and it should be filled by a representative from Ocean County," Vicari said. "We have seen in the past, that when someone from the County served on the authority we have been able to work together to provide needed improvements to our roads and infrastructure. Without a voice, we have taxation without representation."
Vicari said any talk of toll increases immediately raises concerns on the Freeholder Board as to the affect it could have on our commuters and visitors.
"Ocean County motorists, based on volume, already pour millions of dollars into the parkway through the toll system," Vicari said. "Any increase in tolls also will negatively affect the state's multibillion dollar tourism industry, which is a leading economic engine in Ocean County, providing more than $4.7 billion annually."
Vicari said that it was also important to highlight that the Parkway is used for more than just leisurely travel.
"It's a designated evacuation route during times of emergencies and Ocean County, as a tourism destination sees its year-round population nearly double, which could result in a million or more people having to use these roads to leave the area during a natural disaster," he said.
Vicari said that despite the county's continuing efforts to encourage the state to bring long-needed improvements to Route 9, the other north-south artery in Ocean County – the road has not changed since it was first constructed in the 1920s, with very few areas upgraded, remaining one lane in each travel direction throughout the course of the County which has seen its population grow to almost 600,000 people.
"Ocean County has been continually informed by state transportation officials that dualization of Route 9 will probably never occur," Vicari said. "So where does that leave us?"
Vicari suggested the state Legislature should consider a New Jersey income tax deduction for commuters who pay at least $500 in toll costs per year as verified by EZ Pass.
"Instead of asking for more maybe there is something the State can do to help our commuters," Vicari said. "Clearly most people using the parkway and turnpike are doing so to get to and from work. It's their livelihood and we shouldn't charge them more for that."