New Jerseyans Skeptical Toll Hikes Will Be Used for Road Improvements

A recent poll found residents of the Garden State are opposed to the recent toll hikes the New Jersey Turnpike Authority approved, fueled by distrust of the policy makers who allowed the rate hikes to go through.

Overall, 49% are opposed to the recent increases compared with 38% favoring the toll hikes, according to the Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll. Fifty percent say they doubt that the money will be funneled into road repairs, while 24% are already too strapped financially to afford the rate hike. Additionally, 16% believe the state has enough money for highway maintenance without tapping motorists, and 8% think the highways are just fine.

“The hikes are a done deal and will take effect after Sept. 13, so what the public wants is moot,” said Krista Jenkins, director of the FDU Poll and professor of politics and government. “However, it is important to note that many who are opposed base their opposition on the distrust that the toll hike revenues will actually be spent on road improvements. What this means is the state’s use of the money for road improvements needs to be paired with better communication.”

Fall Increase

Tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway will be increasing Sept. 13 as part of an initiative to fund a $24 billion construction plan. The capital project funded by the increases will include improvements to highways, bridges and tolls on the Turnpike and Parkway. 

Tolls will be going up by 36% on the New Jersey Turnpike — increasing the average trip cost from $3.50 to $4.80 — and by 27% on the Garden State Parkway, increasing the average trip cost from $1.11 to $1.41. 

The Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll, in conjunction with the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825, found most opposed doubt the rate hikes going into effect in the fall will ultimately be used to improve the condition of New Jersey highways. 

Investment Revenue

“Toll increases are never popular and state leaders should be commended for making the hard choice in difficult times.  But there is a road forward for motorists to support the increases if they can see their investment being put to good use,” said Greg Lalevee, Business Manager, IUOE 825.

“That means two things – the state must follow through on its promise to dedicate the revenue to road improvements and they must let New Jerseyans know how the funds are being spent.”

With the exception of partisan differences, opinions are largely the same across a host of demographic groups. Republicans are solidly opposed to kicking in more when they drive Jersey highways at 63%, while 50% of Democrats support the rate hike.

Roads Safer

The survey found an increase in the perceived condition and safety of New Jersey’s roads, bridges, and tunnels. Twenty three percent of respondents answered that the quality of the state’s transportation infrastructure is getting better and 22% remained the same; up from 16% and 15%, respectively, a year ago. 

Most continue to believe both the quality (49%) and safety (50%) of roads, bridges, and tunnels have remained the same.

“Obviously, the intervening event between last year and today is the pandemic, which has kept so many off the roads. Whether the numbers continue to improve once things return to normal is an open question,” said Jenkins.

More Maintenance Needed

Similar to last year’s survey results, clear majorities are not happy with the state government when it comes to maintenance and using designated funds wisely. Half say the state is not doing enough to maintain and repair New Jersey’s roads, bridges, and tunnels—down from 63% in 2019, and three-fourths believe policymakers need to do a better job allocating money for repairing and maintaining roads, bridges, and tunnels.

“These perspectives unite even partisans, something we don’t find all that often in today’s polarized landscape,” said Jenkins. “The improved perception of the state’s maintenance efforts, coupled with the slight improvement in attitudes toward safety and quality, could be a case of absence making the heart grow fonder in the COVID era. Time will tell, as two observations does not quite make a trend.”        

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