Ocean County Press Release
TOMS RIVER – The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders has again voiced their opposition to toll hikes on the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike noting the increases do nothing but harm Ocean County commuters already adversely affected by business closures during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a resolution approved by the Board June 3, the Freeholders are strongly urging the Governor to veto the minutes of the Turnpike Authority that approve the toll increase. In addition, Ocean County again is calling for a seat at the table of the Turnpike Authority filling the opening currently on the authority.
"I don't believe Ocean County's concerns will be heard until we again have representation on the authority that oversees our toll roads," said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari. "We are a county of 600,000 residents and a very large percentage of our population are commuters. We need to have a voice on an authority that is willing to take our money and provides little in return."
Vicari said that toll hikes bring little benefit to the citizens of Ocean County as much of the money collected helps subsidize transportation in northern New Jersey including rail.
"New Jersey has not given Ocean County's motorists any traveling options," Vicari said. "This Board has long supported a rail line as a transportation alternative in Ocean County. Yet after years of studies, this has not moved forward by the state."
Vicari, who also serves as liaison to tourism, said the increase in tolls also will negatively affect the state's multibillion dollar tourism industry, which is a leading economic engine in Ocean County, providing more than $4.8 billion annually.
Vicari said that it was also important to highlight that the Parkway is used for more than just leisurely travel in Ocean County.
"It's a designated evacuation route during times of emergencies and Ocean County, as a tourism destination sees its year-round population nearly double, which could result in a million or more people having to use these roads to leave the area during a natural disaster," he said.
Vicari said that despite the county's continuing efforts to encourage the state to bring long-needed improvements to Route 9, the other north-south artery in Ocean County – the road has not changed since it was first constructed in the 1920s, with very few areas upgraded, remaining one lane in each travel direction throughout the course of the County.
"Ocean County has been continually informed by state transportation officials that dualization of Route 9 will probably never occur," Vicari said. "So where does that leave us?"
Vicari suggested the state Legislature consider a New Jersey income tax deduction for commuters who pay at least $500 in toll costs per year as verified by EZ Pass.
"Instead of asking for more maybe there is something the State can do to help our commuters," Vicari said. "Clearly most people using the parkway and turnpike are doing so to get to and from work. It's their livelihood and we shouldn't charge them more for that."