State senators discuss truck lanes concession on New Jersey Turnpike

July 9, 2008

Senate leaders are discussing with the Corzine administration a private toll concession to manage truck and bus lanes on the New Jersey Turnpike. Richard Cody, president of the senate and Raymond Lesniak chair of an economic committee are both reported by Joe Donahue in the Star-Ledger as saying they are looking at a partial toll concession - either for truck and bus lanes or for premium service lanes for cars.

Proposals for full concessioning of the Turnpike foundered in 2006, as did proposals for a public sector 'monetization' based on steep toll increases earlier this year.

Codey and Lesniak are now exploring partial concessions as a way of putting the costs of expanding the Turnpike on classes of motorists who benefit most, and avoiding the need for large across the board toll increases.

Governor Jon Corzine is quoted in the New York Times as saying the senators' ideas were "worthy of examination" adding: "We're looking at a whole host of alternatives, and we have an absolute need to come together with a plan."

The major opportunity for a concession arises out of the Turnpike's need for widening in its central section from Interchange 9 (IC9) at MP83 (Mile Post 83) in East Brunswick south 56km (35 miles) to IC6 in Mansfield (MP48).

This is a $2 billion-plus project.

16km (10 miles) of the pike south of IC9 is relatively simple third laning of the outside roadways of a dual-dual segment of 2/3/3/2 lanes configuration to match the 3/3/3/3 lanes north of IC9.

The remaining 40km (25 miles) from MP73 south to MP48 however requires adding twin three lane roadways to the existing 3/3 lane configuration and rebuilding or major improvements of up to seven interchanges so the inner roadways have direct connector ramps or 'jumpovers' like those north of MP73.

The improvements would extend the dual-dual (DD) or quad segment now 72km (45mi) to 112km (70 miles). At the northern end in Newark (MP106) the pike splits into separate eastern and western 3+3 lane expressways, the first serving New York City tunnels and the second northern NJ and the George Washington bridge, maintaining 12 lanes total.

23km (14 miles) of the central segment from IC11 (MP91 in Woodbridge) to IC14 (MP105 in Newark at I-78) has a 4/3/3/4 lane configuration and carries over 200k vehicles/day average.

In central Jersey around IC9 and IC8A where there are lane drops from 12 to 6 lanes southbound merging traffic backs up for miles on a regular basis weekday afternoons and also at weekends when New Yorkers and Jerseyites head south for the Delaware beaches.

Average daily traffic in the segment to be widened IC9 to IC6 ranges at present between 118k and 171k/day as point flows. Total traffic on the Turnpike is forecast to grow from 677k trips/day in 2003 to 1,109k/day or 68% by 2021.

Trucks constitute a high proportion of the Turnpike traffic - about 12% by volume and 34% by revenue. The truck proportion is above average in the central segment.

Modification of the details of the Turnpike plan?

At present the dual-dual or quadruple roadway configuration is managed for cars-only on the inner roadways, and a mix of cars and trucks on the outer roadways. The plan for the widening is to extend the same arrangement south. The two roadways are almost identical with each consisting of 53ft (16.2m) of pavement striped for three 12ft (3.65m) travel lanes and a full breakdown shoulder rightside and a 5ft (1.5m) leftside shoulder or offset from the pavement edge.

The Authority's philosophy has always been that they should have flexibility in routing trucks onto what are normally the inner cars-only lanes to cope with incidents or roadwork on the general purpose outer lanes. On that basis they are both built to the same standards and dimensions.

Truck lanes

State senator Ray Lesniak has suggested consideration of a toll concession for trucks lanes (which could also carry buses.)

The truck-only lanes they could be put on the middle of the roadway - the leftside of each direction of travel. Truck volumes probably don't justify giving trucks half the Turnpike but there would be advantages in this.

The outside roadways, already wider in places and more easily widened, would become the light vehicles lanes.

Truck-only lanes might allow longer and heavier trucks - long doubles and triple shorts - which because of their higher efficiency would pay a higher toll rate.

The roadways for cars could be striped for narrower lanes. Cars and other light vehicles have plenty of room in 11ft (3.3m) or even 10ft (3m) lanes.

53ft (16.2m) of the New Jersey Turnpike's planned roadway pavement could easily carry four car lanes rather than the three general purpose lanes planned - 4x10.7ft (43ft) would allow an 8ft shoulder rightside and 2ft offset leftside. [4x3.25m (13m) allowing 2.4m right shoulder and 0.6m leftside offset.]

Ken Small, transportation economist at University of California Irvine has examined the case for converting 40ft (12.2m) roadway pavement from the conventional two 12ft (3.65m) travel lanes to three 10ft (3m) and finds it compelling where there is urban congestion. Free flow speed declines about 8% (from 65.5mph to 60.4mph) in narrower lanes but roadway capacity is up some 46% from adding the travel lane. The increase in capacity for the extra lane far outweight the slightly lower free flow speeds.

The light vehicle lanes are also relieved of the heavy pounding by trucks that they receive when not used as general purpose lanes. Truck lanes can be built specifically for that and tolls used to cover the costs.

Trucking lobby groups will be weighing in heavily on the issue. They'll have to be persuaded there's something in it for them.

The senators are also suggesting examination of premium service or express lanes being concessioned.

Premium service toll lanes for commuters usually operate alongside free but congested lanes and depend for their financial viability on a significant advantage in travel times and reliability. Privately operated alongside public toll lanes there would be the objection that the public lanes were being deliberately congested to enhance the revenues of the concessionaire. That seems - to us - a no-go, politically.

Here are the details on the Turnpike Authority's planned widening

TOLLROADSnews 2008-07-09

Further Reading

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