It is entirely understandable that drivers would like the toll-collecting Garden State Parkway to go away. But as one pundit said, “be careful what you wish for; you may actually get your wish.”
Despite what one letter writer has written, in support of such a proposition and citing the closure of the Connecticut Turnpike as an example, his facts are somewhat skewed, if not downright disingenuous.
When the Connecticut Turnpike closed, it was anticipated that:
1. accidents would decrease;
2. pollution (related to stopping at toll booths) would abate; and
3. traverse time would be reduced. Just the opposite happened!
In point of fact;
1. traffic accidents increased dramatically as vehicles using the ‘pike rose by 30 percent (many drivers took advantage of the freebie);
2. pollution accompanied the vehicular upsurge to the annoyance of villagers abutting the ‘pike;
3 and with the new congestion, traverse time actually increased.
In addition, about 2000 ‘pike workers were laid off and maintenance of the road became the responsibility of the state (a significant part of this maintenance cost came from the federal government as is its obligation to interstate highways; this, of course, is picked up by taxpayers throughout the country.) Predictably the state increased existing taxes and found need for new ones. Tolls formerly paid for the most part by passing-through-the-state drivers were lost and larger commercial rigs took to the ‘pike in droves ( a non-discriminatory requirement for most interstate highways principally because the interstate highway system came about through trucking industry lobbyists).
In response, the “locals” who had used side roads to avoid tolls, now abandoned the ‘pike and returned to congest side roads. But the financial, employment, pollution and accident damage had been done.
Getting back to our own Garden State Parkway, it was constructed as a toll facility because this was the only practical way to pay for it. You see, the politicos were not about to alienate the voters by raising taxes and implementing new ones. The 170+ miles of roadway were constructed between 1950 and 1957; the roadway has been enlarged many times, but without bothering the taxpayers.
Of course, the users pay for their traverse, a not uncommon and fair way to pay for such a perquisite. A free alternate route is available; one may ride the wretched Route 9 from the George Washington Bridge to Cape May. The choice is still there for the hardy.
Frank X. Landrigan