Now that New Jersey's fiscal 2009 budget is signed, sealed, and delivered, attention in the Garden State turns once again to financing transportation infrastructure as two senators this week proposed allowing a private company to manage certain lanes on the New Jersey Turnpike.
The concept, which is in the beginning phases, would restrict commercial truck and bus traffic to one or two lanes operated by a private corporation. While the company would charge trucks and buses more on the Turnpike, the heavier vehicles may experience lighter traffic flows as passenger vehicles would be restricted to non-commercial lanes.
Senate President Richard Codey and Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, on Monday proposed bringing in a private company to manage a portion of the Turnpike.
The idea could bring in additional revenue for New Jersey as state officials contemplate how to generate needed funds to support $2 billion of road-widening projects on the Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway and a new $7.5 billion passenger-rail tunnel that will run under the Hudson River, from Newark to Manhattan's Pennsylvania Station, called the Access to the Region's Core, or ARC tunnel.
"We have to do something to raise billions of dollars for infrastructure improvements," Lesniak said. "The most significant being the ARC tunnel, the train tunnel into New York City, which is the most important economic development project for the future for the state of New Jersey, and right now no one has identified the billions of dollars necessary to get that done. This is one attempt to try to do that."
Lesniak said the idea needs further study but could bring in "billions of dollars" for the state's infrastructure and that commercial traffic may be more receptive than private passengers to a private company operating a portion of the toll road.
Moody's Investors Service analyst Tom Paolicelli said the Turnpike will need to find a way to support the $2 billion road-widening that lawmakers have approved but construction has yet to begin as officials work out how to finance the initiative.
"In order to undertake the widening program and the improvements needed, I think the Turnpike has recognized - and we've pointed out in our credit reports - that the need for additional revenue will absolutely be essential to maintain the credit quality and to provide the money for capital that's needed. So they do need to come up with revenue sooner rather than later, for sure," Paolicelli said.