Weinberg: Widen the Turnpike? That’s not a solution. | Opinion

Published: Sep. 22, 2022

By Loretta Weinberg

Loretta Weinberg, the former state Senate majority leader, says the state can consider many possible infrastructure projects but the only idea that should be rejected outright is building more car lanes on a highway that ends at a two-lane tunnel.

Let’s be honest, the Turnpike is not the problem. Bumper-to-bumper traffic at the mouth of the Holland Tunnel is a pain for drivers and it is dangerous for the communities that have to suffer from the fumes, but widening the turnpike is not a solution.

The problem is we have too many cars trying to drive into New York City. This plan encourages more cars, not less — it is a $4.7 billion plan to nowhere. I do not blame the developers, construction workers or the unions for this plan because their role is to build our state’s infrastructure, not plan it. In fact, the real solutions to our traffic problems will require their support and efforts just as much as this phony one.

Public officials, however, and the Department of Transportation have very different roles from developers and construction crews. Officials are tasked with using public funds for the public good, strategizing beyond a single project and investing in a comprehensive transit system for the future. Right now, we need them to step up.

There is no question New Jersey has serious traffic and transit woes. NJ Transit has been underfunded and mismanaged for the better part of the 21st century. Our overburdened communities have been literally choking under decades of exhaust from traffic endlessly passing through their neighborhoods, and our planet desperately needs every functioning government body in the world to fight climate change as aggressively as possible.

If there was ever a time to do something big, to really fix our system rather than just adding another bandaid, it would be now. We have unprecedented federal funds alongside historic state revenues. Today, we have the means to transform the way New Jerseyans get from point A to point B, to go green, to alleviate the suffering experienced by overburdened communities, and drastically improve the lives of nearly a million New Jerseyans who use public transportation on a weekly basis. With more people working from home at least part-time, we need to focus on getting people around New Jersey, not just into New York City.

With all due respect to DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, I think it is possible her Turnpike Authority experience has skewed her priorities. When you spend your career building roads, building more roads seems like money well spent. I’m old enough, however, to remember a 10-year strategic plan from NJ Transit that was put out in 2021. This was a strategic plan that called for replenishing our aging buses with a more reliable, more efficient fleet; improving and expanding our bus infrastructure; expanding the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail; replenishing our rail fleet; updating our rail infrastructure; and even increasing our ferry capacity into New York City.

In short, it’s a plan to improve the quality, capacity and reliability of public transportation so we can get cars off the road by providing a real alternative to sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic at the mouth of the Holland Tunnel, the Lincoln Tunnel, or the George Washington Bridge.

To my knowledge, while line items have been included in the annual budget, there has been no comprehensive funding approach to significantly reduce our traffic problem, and certainly not to the tune of $4.7 billion. For not much more than the cost of this project, we could both extend the Hudson-Bergen light rail to Englewood and build the Gloucester-Camden light rail linking Camden with Glassboro — imagine how many cars that could take off the road.

NJ Transit investment is not a panacea but it is a big piece of the puzzle. Robert Menendez Jr. brought an interesting idea to the table with a dedicated bus lane and we certainly should not limit ourselves or our imagination to any single agency or entity. What we know for certain is we have at least $4.7 billion to improve the lives of people traveling in this state and the only idea we should reject outright is building more car lanes on a highway that ends at a two-lane tunnel.

I’ve spent more than two decades fighting to improve the lives of people commuting to New York City and I can’t sit back and watch New Jersey let this opportunity slip through its fingers. We have a once-in-a-generation chance to right this ship, let’s not waste it.

Loretta Weinberg is a former Senate Majority Leader.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-09-23 02:37:31 -0700