Where Does Your Toll Money Go?

By Briana Vannozzi

Jersey drivers know that to get around you’ll inevitably hit a toll or two. While they may be necessary, one thing garden state residents will agree on is this: they can eat a hole in your pocket.

“I had to go to Bayonne and I think I went a total of 10 miles and it was like a $5 toll,” said Woodcliff Lake resident John Mileham.

The max toll for drivers along the garden state parkway will run you $8.25 — that’s about 4.8 cents on the mile. The turnpike is more. The trip from Salem County to Fort Lee will run you $13.85, about 11 cents per mile.

So what do all those tolls add up to for the most densely populated state in the U.S.?

Nearly $1.4 billion dollars was collected in revenue from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority in 2014 and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey brought in nearly as much. Though a spokesman says its not their main source, the two authorities collect one fifth of all tolls in the United States.

“The reason the New Jersey Turnpike Authority leads that list is not because our toll rates are higher than other places, it’s because we have, we operate two of the busiest toll roads in North America,” Tom Feeny said.

The spokesperson says those two roads account for nearly 13 billion vehicle miles traveled each year, meaning it costs more to maintain it.

“Toll money covers our operating expenses; lowing snow; maintaining bridge decks; filling potholes; mowing grass; pays for state police,” Feeny said.

Tolls account for 93 percent of the authority’s operating budget. It recently spent more than $2.5 billion to expand the turnpike and says it pays the state $8 million each year for feeder roadways, along with $22 million for the Transportation Trust Fund.

“It’s a complicated story, but in order to be able to maintain a system of improvements it requires sizable tolls,” said Martin Robins.

The garden state parkway actually ranks second lowest in cost per mile among the 37 U.S. toll roads in the country. The New Jersey turnpike ranks 15th.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey operates the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the two most expensive in the nation, and the Bayonne, Goethals, Outerbridge Crossing and George Washington Bridge, which is the busiest bridge in the world. A car trip on any will cost you $14 dollars cash. Those with an EZ Pass will find a small discount in price at $11.75.

“The bridges and the tunnels are egregiously high. They really, really are,” said Eileen Lingard from Long Island.

That agency saw a bump in revenue since its latest toll hike: $106 million more in tolls in the first nine months of the year compared to in 2014.

“The Port Authority portfolio is that some of its facilities lose money, and some are very big money makers,” Robins said.

I know prices go up. Infrastructure is extensive, but between what we get from the government and what they’re pulling out of the people’s pocket, I think it’s wrong,” said Lingard.

Experts say the funding formulas are incredibly complex. With all the infrastructure needs, and a fight over increasing the gas tax, tolls are here to stay.