New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy finds himself on the opposite side of a fight with political leaders in Hoboken and Jersey City.
He backs a $4.7 billion dollar plan to widen the extension of the Jersey Turnpike that leads to the Holland Tunnel. They don’t.
The governor argues the widening, proposed by the New Jersey Turnpike authority, would help alleviate congestion in tandem with several other long-term projects to improve infrastructure for commuters traveling between New Jersey and New York. But local officials have opposed the move, saying it’ll push traffic to local streets during construction, and won’t ultimately relieve congestion.
Environmental groups have also opposed the project, saying it would increase pollution at the expense of minority communities.
In an appearance Tuesday on “Ask Governor Murphy” hosted by WNYC's Nancy Solomon, Murphy defended the proposal as one of several measures to distribute the load of traffic across infrastructure, and to fight climate change.
He cited the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s plan to replace its NYC bus terminal, the plan to build new rail tunnels under the Hudson River, work to improve NJ Transit infrastructure and service, and programs to incentivize more electric vehicle use. The work for new mass transit infrastructure is years away from completion, though Murphy declined to pin down dates — noting instead related work stalled out under previous administrations.
He presented a similar argument to explain his opposition to an MTA plan for congestion pricing that would toll drivers who enter Manhattan below 60th Street. Murphy has both said he doesn’t want to see New Jersey drivers who get tolled twice for entering New York, and that congestion pricing would be more viable once more commuter infrastructure is in place.
“So in a world five to 10 years from now, when all of that is in a different place, you have a different reality,” Murphy said of the Turnpike widening.
And he stood by that argument, even when confronted with a quote Solomon presented from Amy Goldsmith, executive director of Clean Water Action, whom the governor described as a friend.
“Either the governor’s people have sold him snake oil or he’s selling out Jersey City, Hoboken and his reputation as a climate justice crusader,” Goldsmith recently said. “Common sense and science dictates you can’t grow your way out of a bottleneck in either electric vehicles or gas engines, which will still be on the road decades from now. Expanding the NJ Turnpike Hudson County Extension to the Holland Tunnel without expanding the tunnel itself is just making traffic congestion and air pollution worse in already overburdened communities.”
Solomon pushed repeatedly on a particular point: That even with more lanes leading into the Holland Tunnel, there’s still a “choke point” at the tunnel itself, where only two lanes of vehicles can enter. Murphy never quite addressed that point, instead returning to his descriptions of other infrastructure work that would alleviate some traffic burden on the Turnpike.
“I don't ignore for a second the concerns of the local issues,” the governor said. “I've said this several times: All politics is local. I get it. But this is the right thing to do.”
The proposed Turnpike project would widen the roadway in three phases in Bayonne and Jersey City, and replace the Newark Bay Bridge. In its first phase, it would widen the extension to four lanes in both directions.
Ask Governor Murphy is a production of WBGO in Newark in partnership with WNYC and WHYY. It’s hosted by Solomon, a senior reporter for WNYC and Gothamist.