"The Governor needs to veto these minutes to stop them and protect our environment.”
~ Jeff Tittel, Director of The NJ Sierra Club
The NJ Turnpike Authority has unanimously voted to approve their $24 billion capital plan during their Board of Commissioners Meeting. The plan would widen major segments of the NJ Turnpike and GS Parkway. There are 15 highway widening or bridge replacement projects, totaling at least $15.635 billion, although the final costs will be much higher due to budget adjustments and cost overruns.
“Today, the NJ Turnpike Authority pushed through the biggest road widening project in more than a generation. They did it by hiding behind the pandemic without allowing the public to have any meaningful input. This massive project will have a major impact on land use and pollution in the state. It will cause more flooding and more headaches for commuters. It will also mean more traffic going through Environmental Justice communities like East Orange and Jersey City,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This rogue and arrogant agency is out of control. They pushed this through in an undemocratic way without allowing public input or scrutiny. The Governor needs to veto these minutes to stop them and protect our environment.”
These projects will add a total of at least 454 lane miles, increasing capacity by 998,800 cars per hour or more, even though research shows that increasing highway capacity does not eliminate traffic congestion. A recent report by Transportation for America shows that although freeway capacity has increased faster than the population in America (42% compared to 32%), traffic delays have increased by 144% since 1993.
“This is a shameful abuse of power by an out-of-control agency. This is a dirty deal to pave over parts of New Jersey and it will have major impacts on our future. It will determine land use and environmental policy for years to come. Hundreds of people testified against their capital plan, but they deliberately looked the other way and limited public participation. They held in-person public hearings during the health emergency because they didn’t want the public showing up to oppose their unneeded widening projects. This just shows that their capital plan is irresponsible, and so are their actions,” said Tittel. “When the government deliberately hides behind a virus to keep the public from participating, they are not doing the public’s business. They are taking care of special interests at the expense of the people who they are supposed to be working for - the people of New Jersey.”
These projects would increase air pollution in New Jersey by approximately 376,990.5 metric tons CO2 every weekday or 100,535,024.3 metric tons CO2 each year. This is only a narrow snapshot of the impacts of these projects. It doesn’t include the impacts of all of these cars driving on other roads on their way to or from the expanded sections of the NJ Turnpike or GS Parkway.
“These projects will have major environmental impacts. Projects in the Meadowlands will pave over environmentally sensitive wetlands in one of the most flood-prone areas in the state. With sea-level rise, all of these roads will be underwater within decades. In South Jersey, widening projects will promote development, leading to more shopping centers and warehouses. Construction and more traffic will increase air pollution in a state where most counties are still receiving ‘F’ designations from the American Lung Association,” said Tittel. “Despite these impacts, no environmental analysis or EIS was performed. They are using toll money because even the Trump Administration wouldn’t fund these projects due to air pollution and flooding impacts. This means people in NJ will be paying more to be stuck in traffic longer.”
Many of the projects in the capital plan are located in Environmental Justice communities. This means more traffic and pollution in areas that already receive a disproportionate amount of pollution. This undermines Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 23, which states that “all Executive branch departments and agencies should consider the issue of Environmental Justice and make evaluations and assessments with that guidance.”
“If you build it, they will come. They are speeding us backward to the 1950s instead of into the 21st century. The ghost of Robert Moses is back, bulldozing through minority neighborhoods for suburban commuters. This is a wish list of every bad project that the highway lobby wants. They want to flatten communities and open areas up for sprawl and overdevelopment while undercutting the need to expand mass transit in NJ. They’ll have to tear down homes and apartment buildings in Environmental Justice communities like Hillside, Irvington, Newark, and East Orange, which means mass disruptions in those areas,” said Tittel. “These funds would be better spent helping these communities by putting in a light rail system along the Parkway.”
There are fifteen projects in the capital plan that will increase highway capacity by widening sections of the NJ Turnpike and GS Parkway or by widening and replacing bridges. These projects account for $15.635 billion, 65% of the total $24.14 billion capital improvement program budget.
“Widening highways to reduce traffic congestion makes no sense. This $16 million would be better spent expanding and improving NJ Transit. They could expand the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line, the Monmouth Ocean Middlesex Light Rail Line, and the South Jersey Light Rail Line. NJ Transit has at least $30 million in capital needs, and they need money to help them as they reopen with social distancing measures,” said Jeff Tittel. “This money could also go to electrifying our transit system or creating Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or dedicated carpool lanes to help reduce traffic congestion
In March, the NJTA went forward with two public hearings about this capital plan, despite the COVID-19 public health emergency. The Sierra Club asked them to postpone hearings and extend the public comment period because of Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 103.
“This is a lose-lose-lose for New Jersey. It means more pollution, more traffic, and higher costs for commuters. The Governor needs to step in and stop these widenings so that this money can go toward improving and electrifying mass transit. These projects hurt the environment while increasing greenhouse gases and climate impacts. Not only that, but the process itself was flawed and deliberately designed to keep the public out,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “These projects will change the shape of New Jersey for decades and will do nothing to fix our traffic problems. Governor Murphy needs to veto the minutes of this meeting. Otherwise, his commitments to reducing air pollution and protecting Environmental Justice communities is just hot air.”