On a daily basis, 100,000 cars pass through the Holland Tunnel. Much of this traffic traverses the 8-mile long New Jersey Turnpike Extension connecting Exit 14 on the Turnpike in Newark, across the Newark Bay Bridge through Bayonne and Jersey City to the Holland Tunnel. This multi-lane, mostly elevated structure was built in 1956, during an era that saw an ambitious program to connect the U.S. with an interstate highway system.
The Turnpike Authority states that the extension is nearing the end of its service life. The Authority and New Jersey Governor Murphy have proposed a $4.7 billion project to widen and repair this roadway. As a reference point, the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system cost $2.2 billion dollars.
In January, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop wrote in opposition to the project: “This proposal would bring more traffic and more pollution to #JerseyCity. Instead, the investment here for NJ should be in mass transit as we have plenty of needs on that front.” The City of Jersey City also sent an official letter to oppose the project.
Safe Streets JC, Bike Hudson County, Bici UC and Bike JC wrote a letter stating, “ill-conceived, harmful to the air and water quality and disproportionately harm minority and immigrant communities living along the Turnpike extension.”
In May, a coalition of environmental groups, including Clean Water Action NJ, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Environment New Jersey, Food & Water Watch and the New Jersey Sierra Club, under the banner of EmpowerNJ protested the widening as a major fossil-fuel project completely contradictory to New Jersey’s executive order to reduce fossil fuel consumption 50% by 2030 and filed a legal petition demanding that the project cease.
At a May meeting of the Turnpike Authority’s Board of Commissioners, 24 out of 25 speakers, many who lived in the adjoining neighborhoods of the proposed expansion spoke out against the project.
The thinking on this project contradicts the trend over the past number of decades that recognizes the devastation wrought by highways in urban neighborhoods, often driven by racist policies towards minority or socially-economically vulnerable communities, and the noise, pollution, and safety hazards that they bring. Opponents have also pointed out the obvious, that the expansion of the Extension will do nothing to speed traffic into Manhattan, as induced demand will fill any additional capacity and the lanes available at the Holland Tunnel will remain the same.
The outcome if this toxic proposal were to move forward can only be more of the same: increased asthma rates for the many children that live and attend school adjacent to the Turnpike, cut-through traffic that congests and endangers local streets, and acceleration of an already fast-burning climate change fire. Instead, advocates call for the funds to be invested in alternatives like expansions in mass transit, freight rail, and complete streets, like the Essex-Hudson Greenway, the Bergen Arches, and the Embankment, all of which would improve public access for both recreation and active transportation.