Controversial Turnpike widening project could force Murphy to choose between Hudson officials and labor unions

By David WildsteinAugust 15 2022

New Jersey Globe

Newark Bay Bridge that connects the New Jersey Turnpike's main line with Hudson County and the Holland Tunnel. 

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Opposition to a $4.7 billion proposal to widen the eight-mile section of New Jersey Turnpike between Exits 14A and 14C will likely force Gov. Phil Murphy into choosing between local officials and progressive activists  in Jersey City and Hoboken and blue-collar construction unions.

Hoboken passed a resolution opposing the Turnpike expansion this week, and Jersey City is expected to follow this week in a bid to stop a project they say will lead to massive congestion in their communities.

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority wants to widen the span that connects Jersey City to the Holland Tunnel.

Murphy has veto authority over NJTA actions and he’ll ultimately make a final decision.

He won wide support of voters in Jersey City and Hoboken in his re-election bid, but also had endorsements from Operating Engineers Local 825 and the Laborers’ International Union of North America, two unions that are major stakeholders in the proposed turnpike project.

“We all wish to wave the magic wand so traffic would disappear, pollution would not exist, and unicorns would safely stroll down Washington or Grove Street,” said Mark Longo, the director of the Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative.   “Unfortunately, we live in the real world and over 100,000 vehicles travel through the Holland Tunnel daily.”

Longo argues that  “goods, services, employees, and tourists all use this vital economic highway.”

“Road expansion will reduce congestion and pollution from vehicles idling as well as grow both the local and regional economies,” stated Longo.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop has already voiced opposition to the widening project, a move that puts him in direct opposition to another potential 2025 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Sweeney, a national Ironworkers Union leader, recently assumed control of Local 11, which would be the beneficiary of hundreds of union jobs on this project.

It’s not clear whether opposition to the Turnpike expansion will divide urban and suburban progressives.  Suburban voters who battle traffic driving to Manhattan might support the roadway widening project despite

The issue potentially forces Democratic congressional candidate Robert J. Menendez to choose between progressives in his district and building trades unions that supported him in the Democratic primary.   Menendez has not taken a public position on the roadway widening plan.

“This is a classic example of wasteful spending; the Turnpike Authority could and should invest the billions of dollars this project would cost in expanding access to public transportation across the state, ensuring more people have a green alternative to cars in the midst of the climate crisis,” said City Councilman James Solomon, who represents the Downtown Ward.  “Instead, the Turnpike authority has chosen a plan that will pollute our air and clog our streets — and that is completely unacceptable.”

Longo says efforts to stop the project by local officials in Jersey City and Hoboken “will only cause more traffic, more pollution and more vehicles trying to cut through local roads.”

“This is the very issue an expansion would solve,” Longo said.

The Newark Bay-Hudson County extension would widen from two lanes in each direction to three or four.  According to the Turnpike Authority, 80% of the traffic on the 8.1 mile span between the Turnpike’s main line and the Holland Tunnel utilizes bridge structures.

If approved, construction would begin in 2026 and last ten to fifteen years.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-08-15 02:43:29 -0700