JERSEY CITY, NJ (PIX11) — Opposition efforts against plans to expand one of the busiest roadways in the tri-state region increased on Thursday.

Protesters went to the offices of the state agency behind the proposal. They also got confirmations of support from elected officials in communities that would be directly impacted. 

The New Jersey Turnpike Extension runs 8.1 miles from the Turnpike to the Holland Tunnel, and some 100,000 vehicles travel along the route daily. That volume can generate pollution that harms local communities, environmental activists and others said.

A group of people opposed to the widening of the Turnpike Extension staged a protest on Thursday morning that they said had one purpose. 

“Clean air, safe streets,” said Jimmy Lee, director of BikeJC, a local community group that promotes alternatives to automobile traffic. 

His organization joined with other groups this week to stage a series of demonstrations across north and central Jersey to oppose what they say are environmental hazards. Their Thursday protest was in Woodbridge, at the headquarters of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which is behind the expansion plan.

Police and building security wouldn’t allow the protesters to stand in front of the building, as they’d planned, but they still gathered and held up signs at the edge of the building’s parking lot, to make their point to the decision makers. 

“When you widen highways,” said one demonstrator, Tyler Newcomb, “it causes induced demand.”

That’s a traffic studies concept, he said, that shows that more road capacity promotes more cars on the road. “[It] makes the traffic worse than it was before,” Newcomb said.

Jan Barry, another protester, put it bluntly.

“We need to have fewer cars on the road,” he said. 

The Turnpike Authority’s plan would widen the 66-year-old roadway, as well as the Newark Bay Bridge, across which the extension runs, from two lanes in each direction, to three. The project would cost $4.7 billion, over 10 to 15 years, according to Turnpike Authority documentation.

Gov. Phil Murphy this week made a full-throated endorsement of the plan.

“I’m strongly and firmly on the side that this is the right thing to do,” the governor said.  

In part, he favors the widening plan, because “it’s not the only lever we are pulling.” He said that the state is also “getting NJ Transit fixed, which is what we are doing, and making it as green as possible.”.
Public hearings are set to begin this fall on the project. 

While reactions to it are expected to be mixed, the city council of Hoboken, which borders the roadway, has endorsed legislation opposing the widening.

Steven Fulop, the mayor of Jersey City, through which a lot of the highway runs, has also gone on the record saying that while the Turnpike Extension needs to be updated, it does not need to be widened.
Instead, he said, some or all of the $4.7 billion can be better spent otherwise.

“It’s really important that we have investments in NJ Transit, in light rail, in the train system, in the bus system,” he said in an interview, “to alleviate pressure that you see going back and forth between New York City and New Jersey.”

He said that an expansion of light rail in particular can create jobs, and reduce congestion significantly.