The South Jersey Transportation Authority has called a special telephone meeting for Wednesday to vote on a proposed 37% toll increase on the Atlantic City Expressway.
Commissioner James “Sonny” McCullough said Sunday he was notified of the meeting on Friday by phone and email. The SJTA had a regular meeting May 19 via telephone, but there was no announcement of the special meeting then.
The SJTA has said the toll increase would generate $26 million more in revenue a year, and would pay for a $500 million capital improvement project that includes $200 million for a light rail line from Glassboro to Camden, $150 million for a widening project, $60 million for connector bridges from the expressway to the Atlantic City International Airport, and $40 million to build an all-electronic tolling system and get rid of toll booths.
According to a public notice on the agency website, SJTA Board Chair Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti scheduled the special meeting.
She has said the infrastructure spending the toll increases would allow will help South Jersey recover from the financial crisis caused by COVID-19.
She is supported in that opinion by both Gov. Phil Murphy and State Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem.
In contrast, Congressman Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd; Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, both D-Atlantic; and State Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, have all said the vote should not take place in the middle of the pandemic, and have called for more information on aspects of the plan.
Tolls at the Egg Harbor City toll plaza would increase from $3 to $4.25 each way, and the $0.75 tolls in various locations would increase to $1.25, according to the agency.
Members of the general public calling in to three telephone public hearings on the proposal in April were overwhelmingly against the toll increases, saying the SJTA should wait until the health and financial crisis caused by the novel coronavirus is either under control or at least better understood.
Union members and leaders, on the other hand — many from unions which would directly benefit from the projects — expressed unconditional support in the three public hearings.
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which is also considering substantial toll hikes and is chaired by Gutierrez-Scaccetti, has its regular meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday. But as of Sunday afternoon its agenda had not yet been posted on that agency’s web site.
The vote on the toll increase will take place in a telephone meeting at 1:30 p.m., and the public may listen and/or comment by calling 800-346-7359 and entering access code 492851.