Toll Changes on GSP--FYI

Toll Changes on GSP--FYI After a half-century of toll plazas that collected from motorists heading north and south, drivers on the Garden State Parkway will get a reprieve of sorts starting Sunday.

Motorists will pay a toll in only one direction at the Raritan (southbound), Asbury Park (northbound) and Union (northbound) plazas, but the toll will be doubled, to 70 cents.

Tolls for southbound drivers leaving the parkway at Exit 105 in Tinton Falls will also be eliminated, while drivers using it to enter the northbound lanes will be charged 70 cents.

Because the Raritan and Union plazas are the busiest on the 172-mile parkway, operators hope the one-way tolls will cut drive time by easing congestion in the free directions.

But for the time being, drivers will still have to slow down to pass through the idle toll booths. The booths will be removed from Raritan north and Asbury south by the end of the year and at Union south in early 2005, said Michael Lapolla, executive director of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, the agency that runs the parkway.

To make the toll-paying process faster, express E-ZPass lanes will be installed at Raritan and Asbury Park in time for Memorial Day weekend, and at Union around July, LaPolla said Friday.

Although it costs about $10 million to convert each plaza to one-way use, the work is to be covered in several years by savings on E-ZPass transaction fees. LaPolla estimated the savings would total about $5 million a year for Raritan, Asbury Park and Union.

"This will end up paying for itself over a short period of years, but the motorists get the benefit immediately," state Transportation Commissioner Jack Letteire said. "Anything we could do to ease that drive is a benefit and plus to the motorist."

Some motorists, however, insist that the changes do not go far enough.

"We think it's just a ploy to perpetuate tolls, and capitalize on all the patronage that goes along with it," said Raymond G. Neveil, president of the group Citizens Against Tolls, which favors eliminating tolls altogether.

The savings realized by eliminating toll collectors and revenues generated by increasing offerings at rest areas could make up any shortfall, Neveil said.

One-way tolls will reduce the number of toll collectors, through attrition, turnpike authority spokesman Joseph Orlando said.

While one-way tolls are common at bridges in the region, placing them on a highway creates an incentive, and the ability, to use other roads to avoid paying on the return trip.

One likely place is just north of the Raritan plaza, where Routes 35 and 9 are toll-free options southbound over the Raritan River.

Letteire thinks few drivers will bother: "Their trip time will be dramatically increased."

More one-way tolls are on the horizon. Gov. James E. McGreevey has asked that the Barnegat and Essex plazas be evaluated, and Letteire said Friday that he will have a plan by mid-October.

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Author: NBC10/AP

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