The Turnpike Authority has scheduled three public hearings next week for proposed toll hikes, construction projects and a new toll.

But none of the hearings are in Monmouth or Ocean counties, where the Garden State Parkway covers the most miles.

At its meeting on Feb. 25, the board approved public hearings to be scheduled for "revenue enhancement" to support proposed projects planned for both the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway. According to a legal notice posted on Saturday, a toll increase and a new toll are part of the projects.

Tolls would increase by "no more than $1.25" on the Turnpike and includes a new Exit 19A on the western spur  and "no more than 30 cents" on the Parkway. The plan would also rescind all bus discounts and create a 40% discount for all buses.

The other big change that would come with the increase will be a switch to all-electronic collections and 3% annual increases.

The public notice does not include the cost of the projects or when the hikes would take effect.

Ocean County Freeholder Director Joe Vicari said he sent a letter to the Turnpike Commission requesting a hearing to be held in Monmouth or Ocean County where he says a toll increase will have the greatest impact.

"The people in Ocean and Monmouth counties must use that to go to work every single day. Not to have it, I think, is disrespectful," Vicari told Townsquare Media.

Turnpike spokesman Tom Feeney said the hearing locations had to be suitable for public hearings and on the be available.

"And at least one needed to be available in the daytime and at least one in the evening," Feeney said, noting the locations are spread out in North, Central and South Jersey.

The freeholder said shore residents have few traveling options and see little benefit from a toll hike, which he said instead goes to subsidize transportation in North Jersey including rail.

"When you say a toll increase it's really a tax" and the best option would not to increase taxes, according to Vicari.  He has some ideas on improving transportation for shore residents including trains, tax breaks and better representation on the Turnpike's board.

"We're treated like second-class citizens in Ocean and Monmouth counties and the only way to solve that problem is to have someone appointed from our area on the Turnpike Authority," Vicari said, adding that no one from the two counties has sat on the board in the past eight years.

He supports revival of the Blue Comet rail line that he said at one time ran from New York to Atlantic City and said much of the rail bed is still in place.

"New Jersey's the most populated state in the United States and now its time to not only improve the economy" of not only Ocean County but the entire state by rebuilding the line, Vicari said.

The freeholder also said that the state should look at making improvements to Route 9, which he said has not been improved since it was first built in the 1920s forcing commuters and tourists onto the Parkway.

To soften the impact of a toll increase, Vicari also proposes a state income tax deduction for commuters who pay at least $500 in toll costs using their E-ZPass.

The proposed Turnpike projects include:

  • Over height vehicle detection
  • Exit 17 (Lincoln Tunnel) ramp replacement
  • Widening between Exits 1 and 4 at the southern end of the Turnpike
  • Widening of the Newark Bay-Hudson County Extension between Exits 14 and 14C
  • Alignment at the "mixing bowl" at Exits 15W and 16W

The proposed Parkway projects include:

  • Completion of Exits 6,13,17,20, 29, 40, 123-124, 147 and 168
  • Widening between Exits 80 and 83
  • Widening of the local and express lanes between Exits 98 and 125
  • Widening of the road between Exits 129 and 153

The public hearings to present the plans are scheduled for

  • Wednesday, March 18 at the Turnpike Authority offices from 1 to 3 p.m.
  • Wednesday, March 18 at  Camden Community College in Sicklerville from 6 to 8 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 19 at Ramapo College in Mahwah from 7 to 9 p.m.

The Turnpike Authority also accepts written comment through March 27, which can be sent to: Executive Director, NJ Turnpike Authority, 1 Turnpike Plaza, PO Box 5042, Woodbridge, NJ 07095 or via email at njpubliccomments@njta.org.

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