Environmental and transportation activists who oppose spending $16 billion to widen parts of the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike are suggesting $36 billion in what they say are better ideas – most of it transit projects.

A half-dozen groups issued a report Monday suggesting their alternative plan, on the eve of what they thought could be the Turnpike Authority’s vote for its capital plan and associated toll hikes. The board meets Tuesday, but the toll plan is not on the agenda.

That’s a temporary win for a progressive coalition that sees the $24 billion capital plan for the state’s two biggest toll roads as irresponsible and not in line with state climate-change goals.

“If we’re going to survive this pandemic and we’re going to rebuild safely, we’re going to have to invest all the new revenue from a toll hike into things that really matter for working families,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, associate director of New Jersey Citizen Action.

The groups are suggesting $10 billion in road and bridge repairs and $26 billion in transit projects, including commuter rail lines from Bridgewater to Ewing, Middlesex County to Lakehurst and High Bridge to Phillipsburg and multiple light-rail lines around the state.

“Just clearly illustrating how misaligned and how off-base the Turnpike Authority’s vision is for where we should be growing,” said Janna Chernetz, deputy director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

“The current plan by the Turnpike and Garden State Parkway moves us backwards to the 1950s. We need to move into the 21st century,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

John Reichman, who heads the environmental committee for BlueWave NJ, said the toll-road work should be delayed and reassessed to measure the long-term impact of the pandemic.

“Every part of society is going to be affected, including vehicle miles traveled. It very well may be, too, that there will be less traffic on the road for many, many years as a result of this,” Reichman said.

Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty said the lack of manufacturing activity and reduction of cars on the road during the pandemic has cleared up a lot of pollution in New Jersey and elsewhere.

“So many different walks of life that our environment is actually, silver lining on this is it’s cleaned up the air for now.”

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Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said the proposed road widenings would reverse that down the line.

“We can’t fight climate change by building more roads that are going to put more cars onto highways and increase air pollution. Highway expansion inevitably leads to induced demand for more traffic, especially in the most congested parts of our state.”

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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