Gov. Phil Murphy's approval in late June of toll hikes for three major New Jersey highways are good for road infrastructure and a boost to the state's economy, according to top construction experts.
Murphy announced tolls would rise by 36 percent on the New Jersey Turnpike and 37 percent on the Garden State Parkway, according to news reports.
"On the turnpike, drivers of passenger cars must pay $13.85 to drive from Exit 1 to Exit 18W. The toll hikes put the new cost at $18.85," according to NorthJersey.com.
The increases become effective Sept. 13.
The 10-year, $24 billion construction project would include widening a section of the Turnpike and Parkway, creating permanent cashless toll payments and replacing a bridge that connects New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
"I said from the get-go we weren't going to kick the can down the road anymore on infrastructure," Murphy said. "There's going to be a plan, and it's, I believe, the right plan."
"This new infrastructure construction plan is great for putting people back to work, but just as important, it's vital to maintaining safe, reliable roads," added Art Corwin, president of Railroad Construction Co., a Paterson, N.J., firm with a long history of building infrastructure projects, including roadways, bridges, buildings, utility systems and rail facilities.
"The toll increase will result in better roads, and there will be less damage to travelers' automobiles who use these major highways."
New Jersey drivers pay an average of $601 in auto repairs every year because of poor road conditions, according to the New Jersey DOT.
Nationally, New Jersey roads have performed poorly when compared with other states. Several independent studies support the need for improvement of the state's infrastructure.
The 2016 Infrastructure Report Card by the American Society of Civil Engineers gave New Jersey a D+ grade, judging the state on capacity condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, resilience and innovation.
"The upgrades will greatly improve conditions for commuters and take care of these major roadways reasonably before other roadway and bridge repairs and upgrades need to be made," said Jack Kocsis Jr. CEO, Associated Construction Contractors of New Jersey (ACCNJ).
Kocsis said his organization and other "labor partners strongly supported the efforts to deliver a long-term capital program for both the NJ Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority.
"When transportation funding is stable, state agencies can execute major infrastructure upgrades and keep a timely repair schedule of high-density roadways. This increases the longevity of our great state's transportation network," he said.
Both Corwin and Kocsis maintain that the project is a boost for the Garden State economy because they expect that thousands of skilled workers will be involved in the project, including laborers, operating engineers, iron workers, carpenters and dock builders.
The wild card that will affect the project is the issue of safety, given the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic. Workers on the infrastructure project will take all necessary steps to maintain safety precautions, Kocsis said.
"Even before COVID-19, our contractors were asked how they keep projects safe," Kocsis said. "We are proud to point to the quality and expertise of our members, who promote the industry's best practices. Most of all, we extol their focus on safety – the most robust safety efforts in the industry.
"We were impressed again and again during the last three months by the extraordinary lengths our members put forth to protect workers from infection," he continued. "It has been a new experience full of tough challenges, and they continue to make COVID-19 protection as much a part of the jobsite culture as all the other safety risks."