Opinion article by John Bendel, App.com, May 25, 2013
John Bendel is a councilman in Island Heights and the Democratic candidate for the state Senate in the 10th District.
It’s time to roll back last year’s Garden State Parkway toll increase for Ocean County residents. It was unfair when imposed on New Year’s Day 2012, and since superstorm Sandy washed away $4.6 billion worth of taxable property in the county, it has become a burden —in effect, a state tax on many Ocean County residents of $500 a year or more.
A rollback for most Ocean County E-ZPass users is entirely possible; it would not be the first time a New Jersey toll authority provided toll relief because of geography.
Since 2008, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority has given a break to residents of Florence and Roebling in Burlington County who use Turnpike Exit 6 and the Turnpike extension there that links with the Pennsylvania Turnpike. But they don’t use the Delaware River bridge that the higher Exit 6 toll helps pay for. So residents of those two ZIP codes who have toll tags issued by New Jersey E-ZPass pay less than everyone else at that interchange. They don’t have to apply for the discount; it happens automatically by virtue of their address.
The Turnpike Authority, which operates the Garden State Parkway, should do the same for the residents of Ocean County.
Virtually every toll authority in the region is extracting much more money from motorists now than at the start of the Great Recession. Even as unemployment soared and household income sank, Delaware River tolls jumped 25 percent, Hudson River tolls oozed up by $1 in December after doubling from 2001, Turnpike tolls spiked 53 percent last year and Parkway tolls roared up by 50 percent.
Commuting is expensive, and those Parkway toll increases added a particularly heavy burden for Ocean County families. Mass transit barely exists in the county. The same can be said for good-paying jobs. If you have a good, year-round job, chances are it isn’t here. And if that job is north of Ocean County, as is also likely, you probably use the Garden State Parkway to get there.
How many Ocean County commuters use the Parkway every day? How much do they pay in tolls?