Many of the people who called into two Atlantic City Expressway toll hike hearings on Wednesday were upset that the hearings were being held at all during the coronavirus pandemic.

The public was not allowed to attend the hearings in person because of Gov. Phil Murphy's emergency order prohibiting gatherings of any number in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. Murphy had said that he was OK with the hearing being held as long as a video stream was available and a method was available for people to call with their comments.

According to the proposal, the toll at Egg Harbor would jump from $3 to $4.25 while the toll in Pleasantville would rise from 75 cents to $1.25. Tolls would also increase on the road's ramps.

The toll money would be used for capital projects, including roadway resurfacing and changes to lighting. It would also fund the proposed Glassboro-Camden light rail and improvements to NJ Transit's Atlantic City rail line.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-N.J. 2nd District, said that holding the hearings was an "unbelievably tone-deaf move."

“South Jersey is hurting. The last thing we need right now are more proposals and hearings on how politicians from Trenton can best punish our citizens even more,” Van Drew said in a written statement

A video replay of the hearings was not available on the South Jersey Transportation Authority website. A spokesman said video would be available on YouTube at a later date.

According to NJ.com's coverage of the hearing, members of the public criticized the authority for holding the hearings.

Bob Dailyda, of Egg Harbor Township, said he thought the hearing was an April Fool's Day joke, according NJ.com's report.

State Transportation Commissioner and SJTA Chairwoman Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said the project would act as a catalyst for the economy when the COVID-19 public health emergency is over, according to coverage by the Press of Atlantic City.

Hearings by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority on whether to raise tolls on the Parkway and Turnpike were also affected by the public health emergency.  Public comment on the proposed increase, which can be submitted via email, ends Friday at 5 p.m.

Another Expressway hearing is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. April 2.

Ocean County Freeholder Joe Vicari asked Murphy to postpone any decision on any toll hikes until the pandemic is over and people are “fully aware and paying attention.”

"Allow this crisis to pass and then grant the public a fair chance to voice their opinion," Vicari said.

Vicari unsuccessfully requested the Turnpike Authority hold a hearing in Monmouth or Ocean counties.

(Includes material copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Enter your number to get our free mobile app