Ed Gross dies

June 30, 2011

Longtime executive director of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, Edward M ('Ed') Gross died this week (Jun 27) from a heart attack. He was 71. Gross was head of the Turnpike from October 1995 to February 2002. He was successful in many aspects of the job, maintaining a well managed state toll agency, pushing through necessary toll increases, initiating major improvements to the Turnpike.

But unfortunately he'll be remembered by many for the troubles he had with the Authority's E-ZPass contractor, MFS Network Technologies, a subsidiary of WorldCom, and finally Able Telecom.

Ed Gross became acting executive director in the fall of 1995 and a year later MFS was selected over Lockheed Martin IMS for the huge job of introducing electronic toll collection in 650 lanes on the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway, the Atlantic City Expressway and the Delaware Turnpike.

It was a disastrous choice though it is unclear to what extent Ed Gross was involved in the selection or was the inheritor of a decision made by others. He always loyally defended the choice as the best proposal by a contractor who seemed credible.

MFS picked up on the trendy catchcry of the time - "innovative financing." Their supposed innovation was to finance the E-ZPass installation with profits from laying coaxial cable in the Turnpike right of way and making several tens of millions a year from violations payments.

They got the contract with the promise that the installation would be virtually self-financing.

It was all a fraud.

MFS was unqualified for the job and naturally failed to meet deadlines, couldn't get key components working, had a procession of project managers, wasn't able to generate violations revenue or cable revenue, and lost money hand over fist. The company was eventually "sold" to a farcical crew of  brawling ditchdiggers in Florida named Able Telecom who - it was said - had never even been able to dig a straight ditch let alone had a thought about how to do electronic tolling.

Late in the day the media and politicians picked up on what was happening in 2001. It became an  election issue, the Democrats blaming the problems on the Republican administration of Gov Christie Whitman. The new governor James McGreevey while still governor-elect called a press conference (2002-01-02) to demand Ed Gross' resignation saying it would be "ludicrous" to keep the same management team that produced this fiasco.

Gross went quietly, a sad end to his career.

By all indications Ed Gross was an honorable man who wanted only what was best for the Turnpike and its customers. He was always straight with us. We liked the guy.

There's a funeral July 6 (tel 732 268 2208) in Bayville near Tom's River NJ where he and his wife Kathleen settled in retirement.

TOLLROADSnews 2011-06-30

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