N.J. Lawmakers Unhappy With Turnpike Records Delay

Fri October 10, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Bruce Shipkowski



TRENTON, N.J. (AP) Two high-ranking Republican lawmakers claim the New Jersey Turnpike Authority failed to respond promptly to an open public records request that sought documents related to the agency’s plan to raise highway tolls.

An authority spokesman acknowledged the delay, but said some documents were sent Oct. 1 and that the agency was working to get more information.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. and Assembly GOP leader Alex DeCroce announced Oct. 1 that they had filed a complaint with the Government Records Council, a state agency that handles disputes over access to government records.

“We’ve asked for basic information about these toll increases the public is entitled to see, and the response was crickets chirping in the wind,’’ Kean said. “The Turnpike Authority has thumbed its nose at its responsibility to deal openly with the public.’’

DeCroce said there are “a lot of unanswered questions’’ about how the plan was developed, what role Gov. Jon S. Corzine played and how it will affect commuters.

Corzine on Oct. 1 said he would veto the current proposal to raise $11 billion in revenue by raising tolls on the turnpike and Garden State Parkway three times over the next 15 years. The money would be used to widen the two roadways and partially fund a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River, among other projects.

On Sept. 30, the governor asked the Turnpike Authority to scale back the current plan. Corzine said he wanted to see the lowest toll increases possible to cover only essential transportation improvement projects.

As crafted, increases would begin with a 60-cent hike on the average turnpike trip next year, followed by a 90-cent increase three years later and a 30-cent increase in 2023. On the parkway, the average trip would rise by 15 cents next year, 25 cents more in 2012 and 8 cents on top of that in 2023.

Joe Orlando, an authority spokesman, acknowledged the agency was late in sending over documents sought by the Republicans, blaming it on an oversight in the agency’s office. He added that his office was working in good faith to get the rest of the information the lawmakers sought.

“They seem to be happier that we were late and not that they might not get [the documents], because that will allow them to continue complaining,’’ Orlando said. “They should be a little less about ’gotcha’ and more about working to fix the state’s transportation infrastructure.’’

The two GOP lawmakers had sought a variety of documents, including studies or data compiled for the toll hike plan — including the cost of certain projects, revenue estimates and projected impacts on traffic flow.

They also were seeking any communications between the Corzine administration and authority members.