By EMILY PREVITI Staff Writer, 609-978-2014
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2008
Staff photo by Bill Gross
BARNEGAT TOWNSHIP – Local business owners have launched a sign campaign to protest toll increases proposed to alleviate state debt.
Jim Episale put up one of the signs at Unshredded Nostalgia, the business he runs on Route 9 in Barnegat Township. He said he isn’t sure that toll increases would affect his business, but is certain the tourism-based economy of southern Ocean County would suffer.
“They want to raise the tolls, fine, they haven’t been raised in a few years,” Episale said. “But this increase he’s talking about – doubling and doubling and doubling and I guess it’s five times he’s going to do that – I think it’s ridiculous. It’s really putting the burden on the small, working-class person who’s commuting every day.”
Barnegat Township Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Thompson said Wednesday he and other chamber of commerce members printed the signs Friday and have been distributing them to residents and businesspeople.
Thompson said locals are excited that “somebody’s doing something.”
“It’s all the residents that are going to be affected and that trickle-down effect is going to go to the local businesses,” Thompson said. A local printing company rushed the order, he said.
“People are scared coming out against this,” Thompson said. He cited the January arrests of Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan and Somers Point lawyer and former Atlantic City Councilman Seth Grossman, who were oppoing the plan at a toll-increase public information session Jan. 19 in Middle Township, Cape May County. Charges against the two, related to protest signs and allgations of tresspass, were ultimately dismissed.
Thompson said the chamber was spurred to action after learning that the state Chamber of Commerce supports the debt reduction plan proposed by Gov. Jon S. Corzine.
“I’m totally amazed that they’re supporting it,” he said.
The state entity’s Web site contains a statement outlining their support for the proposal, but does not directly address the increase in the amount and number of tolls statewide. Representatives did not return calls for comment.
Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, R-Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic, said Wednesday he plans to vote against the proposal.
“It’s bad across the board,” Van Pelt said.
Van Pelt said he would vote against it because 9th District residents cannot afford the $2,200 he estimates each would pay over the life of the plan. The increased expense of traveling the Garden State Parkway would encourage drivers to travel along local roads that are already congested and in disrepair, Van Pelt said.
The chamber will meet 8 a.m. today at the Nursing Rehabilitation Center, 859 W. Bay Ave. Freeholder Director Joseph Vicari will attend to speak about the toll plan as well as the economy and tourism in the area. The Board of Chosen Freeholders issued a statement Wednesday opposing the plan and calling for Corzine to reconsider it.
Vicari, also tourism liaison to the board, said the plan would devastate the local economy due to its dependency on tourism, which generates $3.2 billion in revenue each year.
“Sixty percent of the people commute every day,” he added. “It will hurt the hard-working middle class men and women of Ocean County.”
Wayne Pawloski, vice-president of the Barnegat chamber, said the organization’s campaign could include protesting at remaining town hall events throughout the state, though not at the one scheduled today in Mays Landing.
“We’re encouraging people to write the governor to voice their opposition,” he said.
Barnegat Township officials spoke Monday night about their opposition to the increase. Contractors are scheduled to begin work on the parkway interchange this spring, which will include 35-cent tolls for northbound drivers exiting the Garden State Parkway and those entering the parkway to head south, according to John Hess, township engineer. The tolls aim to collect from drivers who would miss the toll about mile north of the Barnegat exit at milepost 67, Hess said.
“The double toll has nothing to do with the governor,” Hess said. “What’s proposed has always been proposed,” he said about the toll plan for the Barnegat interchange.
Planning for the $30 million interchange expansion in Barnegat began in 1996.
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