Governor Phil Murphy has come out in favor of a controversial $4.7 billion plan to widen the New Jersey Turnpike, putting him at odds with environmental groups and many local leaders.

In an interview on News 12 New Jersey, Murphy explained that the widening would allow for an increase in the use of electric vehicles.

“This expansion, when it comes to conclusion, will allow cars that will increasingly be electric vehicles.  It’ll be a dramatic increase even between beginning construction and concluding construction,” he said.

The governor did not explain in the interview why the replacement of automobiles powered by internal combustion engines with EVs would resulting in an increase in traffic overall.

When asked this morning, the governor’s press office did not provide the basis for the governor’s prediction of increased overall traffic from EVs.

Nor did the governor mention the potential reduction in traffic that a proposed congestion pricing system on traffic entering lower Manhattan might bring about.

The project, which is opposed by a range of environmental groups and the city councils of both Jersey City and Hoboken, would widen the eight-mile stretch of road running from Turnpike Exit 14a to the Holland Tunnel. The plan would also replace the Newark Bay Bridge. The plan would be funded by a 2020 toll increase.

Last week, eight of nine members of the Jersey City Municipal Council signed on to a resolution opposing the project. “This is a classic example of wasteful spending: The Turnpike Authority could and should invest the billions of dollars this project would cost in expanding access to public transportation across the state, ensuring more people have a green alternative to cars in the midst of the climate crisis,” wrote Ward E Councilman James Solomon.

Turnpike Extension Project
Turnpike Extension Project

A day later, the Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative, a group representing major building contractor associations in New Jersey and New York, shot back writing, “We all wish to wave the magic wand so traffic would disappear, pollution would not exist, and unicorns would safely stroll down Washington or Grove Street.”

Mayor Steven Fulop has also gone on record opposing the widening project. In January, Assistant City Business Administrator Barkha R. Patel wrote, “Based on the inclusion of additional travel lanes and anticipated impact on our local communities, Jersey City cannot support these projects as currently conceptualized.”

A graphic posted by Safe Streets JC
A graphic posted by Safe Streets JC

Research has shown, however, that road-widening projects tend to increase traffic to such an extent that they nullify any hoped-for benefits.  In a 2009 study, two economists — Matthew Turner of the University of Toronto and Gilles Duranton of the University of Pennsylvania — concluded that “an average extension of the interstate network does not result in sufficient travel time improvements to justify its cost.”

Responding to Murphy, Jimmy Lee of SafeStreets JC said, “In what fantasy world does widening highways lead to sales of EVs? Half of vehicle pollutants come from brake dust and tire dust, and no one wants the congestion or unsafe streets regardless of type of vehicle. This project is indeed ambitious in how environmentally unjust it is: a huge giveaway to private interests at the cost of the health of the people of Jersey City straight out of the playbook of the 1950s.”

Debra Italiano, president of  Sustainable JC, noted that Jersey City “has the highest rate of asthma prevalence in Hudson County … a lot of the particulate matter is generated by brake dust and tires on roads, so EVs don’t matter. Where’s the commitment to public transit?”

Aaron is a writer, musician and lawyer. Aaron attended Berklee College of Music and the State University of New York at Purchase. Aaron served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador. He received a J.D....