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Testimony to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority In Opposition to the Turnpike Extension Expansion

For Immediate Release

Good morning, my name is Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey and we represent more than 80,000 citizen members and activists across the state. I am testifying this morning because we were one of the lead organizations to submit a rule-making petition to the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (as well as the NJ Department of Transportation), on behalf of EmpowerNJ and the 135 plus organizations they represent documenting the lack of action to reduce climate pollutants per Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 274 through our transportation sector and the fool’s gold proposition of attempting to fix the Jersey City/Turnpike Extension bottleneck by simply expanding the lanes of the Turnpike Extension.

Expanded highways do not only generate more carbon pollution. The increase in the number of vehicles on those highways means more vehicles and the toxic pollutants they generate  – particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, and ground level ozone – that are particularly harmful to our most vulnerable citizens including the elderly, children, and asthma sufferers.  New Jersey already has some of the worst air quality in the nation and NJTA’s plans and projects will only make it worse.

Instead of complying with EO 274, NJTA is either ignoring it or undermining it.  There is not a word about climate change in NJTA’s 2020-2029 strategic plan[i],  ten-year capital plan[ii], rules[iii] or on its website.[iv]

NJTA and NJDOT are not only failing to take the action to reduce GHGs as required by State policy, but are undermining it. NJTA’s capital plan calls for spending more than $16 billion on new highway expansion projects on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike with little or no analysis of whether they would increase GHGs, conflict with this State’s climate goals; be cost effective; improve traffic congestion; or whether the money could be better spent on other transportation projects that would generate more jobs and economic growth without adding toxic pollutants to our already bad air. The failure to adopt a climate reduction strategy also conflicts with federal law and makes New Jersey ineligible to obtain grants available under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The petitions also demands an immediate halt to the $4.7 billion Turnpike Expansion in Jersey City; that the agencies prioritize public transportation, repair projects, safe street projects, bikeways and walkways over highway expansions; and the rejection of projects that disproportionately harm already overburdened communities.

Vehicles account for 40.6% of the State’s net greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), making it the highest GHG source in the State. Governor Murphy issued Executive Order (EO) 274 on November 10, 2021, mandating as State policy a 50% reduction in GHGs by 2030. EO 274 requires all state agencies to implement the objectives of EO 274 and develop strategies to meet the 50x30 Goal.  

Expanded highway means more vehicles and the toxic pollutants they generate  -- particulate matter, known as PM 2.5, and ground level ozone – that are particularly harmful to our most vulnerable citizens including the elderly, children, and asthma sufferers.  

Traffic studies and experience also universally show that highway widenings, particularly in urban areas, will only provide temporary, if any, reduction in traffic congestion because of induced demand.  Long term, expanded highways will be as congested as they were before the expansions. Meanwhile, NJDOT is also ignoring studies, including one done for NJTransit, that prove that funding and improving public transportation promotes far more economic growth than highway expansions.

NJTA must consider whether there are better alternatives to Highway Expansions. NJTA’s plan to spend the bulk of its capital funds on Highway Expansions flies in the face of the directive from the United States Department of Transportation that transportation funding should prioritize fix-it-first projects over road expansions.[v] Further, studies and experience show that using transportation dollars on improving public transportation promotes far more economic growth than highway expansions.[vi]

Numerous states -- such as California, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, and Virginia, among many others -- are aligning transportation planning with climate goals. So is the federal government.  Instead of being a leader, New Jersey is a laggard in reducing GHGs in the transportation sector.

It’s time for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to re-examine its capital plan expansion plans, listen to the voices of the impacted residents of Jersey City and scrap the plans to expand the Turnpike Extension.

[i] https://www.njta.com/media/5124/njta-stratplan_public-v29.pdf

[ii] https://www.njta.com/media/5832/2020_njtalongrangecapitalplan_v1-as-approved-may-2020.pdf

[iii] N.J.A.C. 19:9

[iv] https://www.njta.com

[v] https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/bipartisan-infrastructure-law/building_a_better_america-policy_framework.cfm; https://www.investing.com/news/economy/usdot-recognizes-states-role-in-highway-spending-decisions-buttigieg-2775383

[vi] “Economic Impact of NJ Transit’s Five Year Capital Plan.”  Rutgers Center for Advanced Information and Transportation (June 5, 2020) www.njtplans.com;  https://www.apta.com/wp-content/uploads/APTA-Economic-Impact-Public-Transit-2020.pdf; https://smartgrowthamerica.org/new-report-reveals-smart-transportation-spending-creates-jobs-grows-the-economy/