The New Jersey Turnpike Authority has revised its cost estimate from $4.7 billion to $10.7 billion for widening I-78 from exits 14 to 14C. The estimate, which includes the cost of replacing the Newark Bay Bridge at exit 14, further infuriated mass transit advocates who opposed the project when it was first announced by the NJTA in 2017.

In a new tweet, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop wrote, “If you thought it was a mistake at $4.6 billion, how do you feel now at $10.7 billion? Opposition isn’t about being anti-labor or anti-safety—those are not sincere arguments by the supporters of this project. We can do better here for this type of (dollars).”

Tweeting several months ago, Fulop predicted the expansion would bring more traffic and pollution to Jersey City. Instead of supporting more cars, he said the state should invest in mass transit “as we have plenty needs on that front.”

The mayor’s latest protest triggered an outpouring of Twitter postings.

One commenter, MDW_561978, echoing the mayor’s protest, tweeted, “It was a big mistake at $4.6 billion. It’s a VERY big mistake at $10.7 billion. It’s a big mistake, no matter how much it costs.”

Tweeter @jayalps1 commented, “For that much money, can’t we built (an) additional tunnel?”  

Wrote @CoreyIntheHou11, “(There) should be no widening; encourage mass transit use. Use the money for better trains. These are obvious choices.”

But @ZEROVISIONPHIL retorted, “(Widening the extension) needed to happen yesterday, and because it didn’t, the reality of today’s prices is what you’re paying, so stop complaining. It needs to happen. The Turnpike must get fixed. (It) needs expansion, or it will (impede) commerce in the busiest part of America.”

Dungeon Master Tim suggested the $10.7 billion “could pay for: electrification of all NJ Transit lines, the Lackawanna Cut-Off Restoration, the Monmouth Ocean Middlesex Line, North Branch Corridor Project, the West Trenton Line and the Passaic-Bergen-Hudson Transit Project and leave some change.”

For @newacctwhoandy, money is a secondary issue. “Even if this highway expansion were free, it’d still be a terrible idea. It completely contradicts (Gov. Phil) Murphy’s stated beliefs on environmental justice, racial justice and climate policy.”

Others, however, called out Mayor Fulop on what they consider his aggressive development policy or misguided mass transit options for upending transit within Jersey City. @Jimmybot wondered whether Fulop would consider “…repairing the fabric of the neighborhood by tearing down the inner loop of I-78 (part of the Turnpike extension) from Liberty Science Center through the Holland Tunnel approach?” 

Referring to Jersey City’s on-demand public taxis, @Emerson Kyle Burke wondered, “How much money are we spending subsidizing Via? It’s unreliable, serves only a small percentage of the population, and we still have transit deserts.” Meanwhile, he added, “…. (T)he overdevelopment you’ve allowed for without infrastructure improvements & redesigns has brought NYC traffic to JC. Your opposition is political theater in the hope it helps your gubernatorial run.”

Lynne Burke complained, “Widening the middle of the bottle(neck) for $10B, while leaving the bottleneck the same screams corruption. It’s a waste of money vitally needed for schools and making our city an enjoyable place to live with better infrastructure and more pedestrian-friendly streets….”

Asked for an update on the status of plans for the extension project, NJTA spokesman Thomas Feeney said the first of two phases will involve the widening of the pike along a three-mile stretch between exits 14/Newark and 14A /Bayonne. 

“Two lanes would be added in each direction where additional capacity is most needed and would make the most difference, between Interchange 14 and 14A,” Feeney said. There are now two lanes in each direction. Construction figures to begin in 2026 and continue through 2033.

Phase 2 will widen a five-mile stretch between Interchanges 14A and 14C, the latter being Columbus Drive in Jersey City, which is the end of the planned extension. Currently two lanes, the stretch will become three. 

Wrote Garry Redman, another tweeter, “Last I checked, the (Holland) tunnel only has two lanes on both sides. What genius thought adding an extra lane on a highway (leading to the Holland) would relieve congestion and somehow conned the taxpayers to pay for this nonsense?”

There would be no widening beyond Exit 14C, however, according to Sweeney. “The Turnpike Authority has been saying since before the needs assessment even started that adding capacity in the last mile and a half leading to the (Holland) Tunnel would make no sense since there are no plans to add capacity in the tunnel itself.”

Feeney also said that no start date for Phase 2 has yet been set.

All of the 29 bridge and viaduct structures in the extension (including the Newark Bay Bridge) will be replaced under the program, according to Feeney.

As for the increased cost projection, Feeney had this to say: “Inflation and rising interest rates have had an impact on nearly every project in the Turnpike Authority’s longterm capital program. The impact is greatest on projects scheduled to be built over many years like this one. It is not unreasonable to think that the estimate will change again as supply chain issues normalize over time.”

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...