Turnpike Authority Hearings: An Insult to the Intelligence of the Public

DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti engaged by Senator Robert Andrzejczak (D-1).

Amid an escalating medical crisis, it’s “comforting” to know how determined some  in the great Garden State are to conduct business as usual.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority went through with plans to hold two public hearings on Wednesday on proposed Turnpike and Parkway toll hikes.  These hearings ensued while just about all other meetings and public gatherings across the state are being postponed.

We have all seen news reports of mindless Spring Breakers cavorting on the beach in Florida, in effect giving the medical community a big “screw you.”

Similarly, that’s precisely how Turnpike officials are treating New Jersey motorists. It is unfathomable to think people would be up for commenting on any public issue when the state is virtually locked-down.

The plan is to raise Turnpike tolls 36 percent and Parkway tolls 27 percent to fund about $24 billion in capital improvements over the next 20 years.

The wisdom of that idea is not the issue. Reasonable people understand revenue must periodically increase. The issue is holdiing hearings when no one – or just about no one – is paying atterntion.

Gov. Phil Murphy has other things on his mind these days. That can explain his rather dismissive attitude when he was questioned about this on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The governor urged a livestream of the hearings, which did occur, and also said room capacity would have to be limited to 50.

Unfortunately, Murphy refrained from saying something short and sweet like this:

“Holding public hearings now is ridiculous and the Turnpike Authority should postpone them.”

And the governor did not bite when a questioner suggested the authority sees the crisis as the perfect time to “ram through” a toll increase.

Of course, the history of such things is illustrative of the “business as usual” approach.

Many recall that back in 2011, a steep toll hike on Port Authority bridges and tunnels was announced on a Friday afternoon in August. And multiple public hearings on the proposal were held in September – most of them on the same day.

This sordid episode, which was orchestrated by both governors Christie and Cuomo, raised tolls $1 a year until they reached $15.

Moving back to today, Diane Gutierrez-Scacetti, the state’s DOT commissioner, has been quoted as saying that capital projects must move quickly because we are entering a presumed economic downturn.

So it’s vital for the authority to get more toll revenue.

This is poppycock. If one wants to bring the coronavirus into the mix, how about the possibility a massive federal stimulus may be available to help fund these very projects?

In fact, Rep. Frank Pallone said as much in a briefing with the press on Wednesday.

What should be more annoying than the hearings themselves is the refusal of the authority to admit it is using a health crisis to limit attention and criticism.

Why insult the intelligence of the public?

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