Tale of Two Tolls: Five Below vs. Nickel-and-Dime | editorial staff

When news broke a month ago that tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway would rise again on January 1, users of the state’s third toll road — the Atlantic City Expressway — might have thought they were getting some breathing space to get.

Well, better late than ever.

It took until November 16, but the separate agency that operates the expressway has also collected the toll. It’s part of a plan approved last year by the South Jersey Transportation Authority that calls for annual increases. The average increase in 2023 will drain users’ finances at a time when other consumer prices are at or just beginning to fall from historic highs.

The toll road increases are below an annual headline inflation rate of just under 8%, so commissioners could argue they are relatively small. The increases are also being prompted by ambitious capital plans that require the establishment of a revenue plan to repay borrowed funds.

Combined, a one-way cash trip, where a motorist goes through both the Egg Harbor tollbooth and Route 50, goes from $4.40 to $4.55 — but it could have been $4.75 if the commissioners did would have used full inflation percentage. E-ZPass discounts remain available for frequent users, but the above trip tab will go from $2.82 to $2.91.

Bar tolls at some smaller toll gates will go up by a nickel, raising the question: does it cost more to reset the collection machines than the higher tolls bring in?

Which brings us to some good news for other South Jersey drivers. The Delaware River Port Authority, which also passed a new budget, will leave bar tolls at $5 for the next year, round-trip. And it’s not an isolated case.

A DRPA spokesman said 2023 will mark the 12th consecutive year that tolls on the Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Commodore Barry and Betsy Ross bridges remain the same. Commissioners voted to postpone an increase that could have brought tolls to full CPI (Consumer Price Index) levels.

There has been so much negativity surrounding DRPA in recent years that we may have neglected to give it the right to halt toll hikes for more than a decade. That’s no mean feat, even if the Port Authority is a patronage mine, complicit in bidding practices that have been rejected by the courts, and has been a target for state auditors and investigators, at least on the New Jersey side.

How can DRPA keep tolls low and still pursue an aggressive capital program? It’s either a miracle or a toll hike awaits down the road. Expected projects in 2023 include $29.3 million for the long-awaited reopening of the PATCO Hi-Speed ​​Line’s Franklin Square station near Old Town and nearly $300 million for the maintenance and upgrade of the Franklin and Ross spans. It helps that the bi-state DRPA will bring $43 million in federal and state funding to its new budget. Have New Jersey authorities made full use of Build Back Better and other federal infrastructure funds that have become available over the past year?

Of course, we all look forward to seeing both the Atlantic City Expressway and the DRPA bridges implement fully cashless toll collection, to which they are both committed. But it looks like the tollbooths and attendants will be there by at least 2025.

In the meantime, if you really want to feel good, check out what the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey charges for entering and exiting New York City via their tunnels and bridges. They have cashless tolls at some intersections, but it costs $16 each time to either pay the collector or get a bill in the mail. E-ZPass users pay as little as $11.75 (off-peak) and up to $13.75 (peak).

And of course, New York is considering “congestion fees,” which could add an additional $9 to $23 per vehicle to go into Midtown Manhattan during rush hours.

All in all, to paraphrase WC Fields’ intended line on his tombstone, we’d rather be driving in or near Philadelphia.

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