AROUND NJ

Christie, Sweeney, Fox Avoid Talk of Gas Tax at Turnpike Ribbon Cutting

By David Cruz
Correspondent

Get ready to say goodbye to the annoyance of that daily traffic jam at the merge of the southbound lanes around exit 8A. Officials — including the governor and senate president — cut the ribbon on the Turnpike-widening project, what they’re calling the largest expansion in the history of the Turnpike.

“With these new lanes now from exit six to exit nine, we’re providing the new capacity that our drivers, our residents need to be able to prosper in the 21st century,” said Governor Christie.

The project cost $2.3 billion but the governor said it came in under budget, actually helping to fund a parkway-widening project down south. It’s a model, said Christie, for how future projects should work.

“We have a lot of other challenges that we have to face,” he added. “We have to figure out together how to build roadways more cheaply. We need to make sure that we build them in a way that not only serves our long-term interests but also serves the interest of the toll payers and taxpayers who are funding these type of projects.”

With the senate president and transportation commissioner sharing the stage with the governor and all these sidebar conversations taking place it was hard not to wonder aloud where they all were on talks aimed at finding money to refill the transportation trust fund, which is supposed to pay for infrastructure improvements.

“I think what you heard from the governor, and me, and others, honestly, is that we’re going to work together to get a solution and, hopefully, we’ll get it soon,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

As the governor walked by, he added. “We’re having conversations; we’ll continue to have conversations about how we deal with the transportation challenges we’ve had, and there’s a lot of different issues to discuss and make sure we get right. I think all too often in the past the reason why efforts like this have failed is because there’s too much chattering in public before there’s some consensus in private.”

That might’ve been a reference to new Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox, who earlier this week had to walk back from comments that appeared to reveal the content of some of the conversations being held. Today, under the watchful eye of the governor’s press secretary, Fox was much more circumspect. Asked about the status of the talks, Fox responded “They’re ongoing, as we say, as many things in government are.”

It’s tough to argue with the successful completion of a road-widening project, but in typical Jersey fashion, a lot of people here were wondering when the next big project was going to begin, and how, more importantly, it was going to get funded.