NEWARK, N.J. - The new year will bring something that's become old hat for New Jersey residents: more costs associated with driving.
For the second time in three years, toll rates will rise on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway. The latest increases go into effect on New Year's Day and compute to about 50 percent on both highways.
They come just four months after the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey raised toll rates on bridges and tunnels into New York by 50 percent and five months after the Delaware River Port Authority increased tolls into Philadelphia by 25 percent.
The hikes are the second phase of a two-part increase approved in 2008 under Gov. Jon S. Corzine. The first increase, at the end of 2008, amounted to about 40 percent on both the parkway and the turnpike.
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority sought the increases to fund $7 billion in improvements over the next 10 years. Critics have assailed the authority and Gov. Christie for not finding a way to replenish New Jersey's Transportation Trust Fund, the source of funding for transportation projects, without toll increases.
"Their mismanagement is a burden on Ocean County, and the increase that will take place is unfair and unreasonable and a hardship on the Jersey Shore," said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph Vicari, who last week reminded residents about the toll increases. "It's another tax on hardworking, middle-class people."
In an interview Thursday on WOR-AM radio, Christie said that he was upset about the toll increase, but that there was nothing he could do to stop it because his predecessor committed to it as part of a deal to borrow money.
"This is, I hope, one of the last vestiges of the Jon Corzine years," Christie said.
The increases go into effect at 6:30 a.m. Sunday and raise the price of driving the length of the turnpike from $9.05 to $13.85 for cash-paying customers. E-ZPass customers who now pay $6.80 will pay $10.40. Two-axle trucks will pay $28.45, up from $18.60.
The average passenger vehicle trip on the turnpike is between 20 and 25 miles, turnpike spokesman Tom Feeney said. That trip will cost about $3.30 beginning Sunday, compared with $2.20 now.
It's enough to drive Christine McGough off the road - literally.
"That's why I'm going to start taking the train," said McGough, who drives more than 50 miles each way from her home in the Bradley Beach area of Monmouth County to her job at a law firm in Newark.
She estimated that counting gas, tolls and parking, her commute costs her $440 per month. The toll increases, though adding only a few dollars per day, would push the monthly cost to about $490.
So, McGough instead will buy a monthly round-trip rail pass on NJ Transit for $308.
"I had never really calculated it, but when I started adding it up, I just went, 'Holy cow!"' she said. "That's almost an extra $200 in my pocket. And better to have it in my pocket than somebody else's."
Feeney said turnpike officials anticipate that other drivers will follow McGough's example or drive on local roads, but a mass defection isn't expected.
"That is an inevitability," he said. "Whenever tolls go up, there is diversion, and that's built into the revenue projections. But the history has been that the diversion has generally been short-term."