New Jersey groups unite against toll road leasing

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Several organizations have allied against New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine’s administration’s consideration of leasing or selling state assets such as its Turnpike. NJPIRG Citizen Lobby (a public interest group), the Sierra Club, the IFPTE196 (toll workers union), and Hands Across New Jersey (an anti-tax citizen’s group) jointly announced concerns over selling or leasing state assets to reduce debt and provide funding.

NJPIRG spokeswoman Abigail Field says concerns the organizations share include practices usually necessary to attract investors: steady toll increases and limiting building and improvement of alternative roads. “New Jersey’s highways should be managed for the public’s interest, not private profit,” Field says. “Decisions about where and when to build or expand our roads, and what tolls to charge, should all be made based on New Jersey’s needs, not a company’s profit margin.”

Jeff Tittel, New Jersey Sierra Club director, says a public-private partnership for the Turnpike amounts to outsourcing government and its responsibilities. The length of leases in other states, such as the 99-year lease of the Chicago Parkway, removes public input and control, the groups say. Also, while toll revenue provides recurring revenue for the public, the groups are concerned over how much private profits would result.

Corzine says he will know by May what his intentions are with the lease/sell considerations.