A coalition of eight environmental groups filed a formal regulation-making petition challenging the New Jersey Turnpike Authority’s $4.7 billion proposal to extend the Hudson County Extension to and from the Holland Tunnel during the permitting process.
The petition, filed with the state Department of Transportation and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, alleges both failed to honor two of Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive orders to reduce greenhouse gases by 50% by 2030 and that state agencies are considering environmental justice pull overburdened and minority communities in all their decisions.
“NJTA and NJDOT not only fail to take action to reduce greenhouse gases as required by state policies, they undermine them,” said John Reichman, member of the EmpowerNJ Steering Committee and chair of the BlueWave NJ Environmental Committee.
Petitions also faulted the Turnpike Authority’s 2020-29 Strategic Plan, 10-year capital plan, rules and website for failing to mention ways to reduce climate change or environmental justice for communities along the toll road affected by pollution and respiratory diseases were affected and traffic.
The 25-page petition makes a similar charge that “like climate change, environmental justice for overburdened communities is not mentioned in the agency’s plans or on its website.”
The petition alleges that the agency’s freeway expansions have — and are — disproportionately damaging already congested neighborhoods populated by people of color, and that’s exactly what the environmental justice provisions aim to address.
The petition was submitted by EmpowerNJ, representing 135 faith, community and environmental groups, BlueWaveNJ, Clean Water Action NJ, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Don’t Gas the Meadowlands Coalition, Environment New Jersey, Food & Water Watch and the New Jersey Sierra Club represents .
Representatives from various environmental groups, cycling and multimodal groups, as well as the city of Jersey City, earlier this year opposed the proposed expansion, claiming it will worsen vehicle-borne air pollution, which has been blamed for respiratory diseases such as asthma.
The proposed $4.7 billion project would widen the roadway and replace the elevated structures of the Turnpike Extension in three phases. The first would widen the extension to four lanes in both directions with shoulders between turnpike exit 14 in Newark and 14A in Bayonne. This includes the replacement of the Newark Bay Bridge, which opened on April 5, 1956 and is two lanes wide in each direction.
The second phase will replace the two-lane freeway and bridges with a two-way three-lane road plus shoulder between exit 14A in Bayonne and the Columbus Drive exit in Jersey City.
The third phase replaces the elevated structures from Columbus Drive to Jersey Avenue, which tower over downtown Jersey City and retain the current two lanes of traffic in each direction and include standard-size hard shoulders. The existing extension was built in 1956 and has exceeded its useful life, Turnpike Authority officials said.
The expansion project is in the preliminary stages of obtaining permits from the DEP Department of Land Resource Conservation. The objections have asked the DEP to pause the permitting process. Opponents who addressed the Turnpike’s Board of Commissioners in January supported repairing and refurbishing the expansion, but no expansion.
The petition goes even further, calling on both the Turnpike Authority and the State Department of Transportation to pass rules to establish a pollution reduction strategy to meet the 2030 goals set by Gov. Phil Murphy, and to require that every motorway expansion project passes a climate impact test, showing that it does not conflict with these 2030 targets and that it meets its goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050.
The petitioners also want a required cost-benefit analysis, taking into account whether the project will increase or decrease traffic and vehicle-km travelled, including possible increases in projected construction costs, and examining the social and health costs of carbon and other pollution.
In addition to the expansion, they also want to consider alternatives such as public transport, rehabilitation projects, safe road projects, bike paths and sidewalks. Finally, they want environmental justice to be considered in all decisions, as mandated by Executive Order 23, and a “robust process of public participation,” including early public participation at the start of a project.
“The NJTA should not spend tens of billions of dollars expanding freeways without thoroughly evaluating whether they are worth the cost,” the petition reads. “NJTA has not shown how its projects would improve traffic congestion.”
The DOT and NJTA have five months to rule on the petitions. At the end of the 90 days, authorities can either accept the petition and begin a rulemaking process, or deny the petition with written reasons for denial, Reichman said.
Letters opposing the project and urging the DEP to halt the permitting process have been sent from Jersey City, Safe Streets JC, Bike Hudson County, Bici UC and Bike JC. Those letters say these groups oppose the project because it is “poorly designed, detrimental to air and water quality, and disproportionately harms minority and immigrant communities living along the Turnpike Extension.”
Opponents also claim it would bring more traffic onto Jersey City streets if the extension is congested because it narrows to two lanes despite the widening on the final approach to and from the tunnel.
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Larry Higgs can be reached at email@example.com.