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Turnpike board hears from foes of privatization

The authority, which operates both roadways, said last year it would seek proposals to privatize E-ZPass and cash toll collections in 2016.

The Associated Press

4/29/2014

WOODBRIDGE, N.J. — The New Jersey Turnpike Authority got an earful from lawmakers and toll collectors Tuesday on its plan to privatize toll collections on the turnpike and Garden State Parkway, with the head of the Assembly's transportation committee calling the proposal "ludicrous."

The authority, which operates both roadways, said last year it would seek proposals to privatize E-ZPass and cash toll collections in 2016. On Tuesday, Department of Transportation commissioner James Simpson said the authority had set an early August deadline for receiving companies' proposals and it expected to vote on the matter in October.

At Tuesday's meeting, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, head of the Assembly's transportation committee, said the savings under privatization would be minuscule while the damage to workers would be significant. Using the South Jersey Transportation Authority's privatization contract as a model and factoring in union figures on salaries for toll takers and supervisors, he estimated motorists would save about a half-penny per trip. Someone who took five trips a week for 52 weeks would save about $1.50, he said.

"It just seems wrong, and it doesn't make economic sense," he said, calling the idea "ludicrous."

Toll workers have already made more than $22 million in concessions to save their jobs, according to Kevin McCarthy, head of the union that represents the toll collectors. That includes part-time employees replacing full-time employees who transferred or retired. McCarthy claimed that if the parkway and turnpike negotiate a contract like the one used by the SJTA, it could even end up costing more than the current contract.

"Privatization will only destroy the middle class at a time when the economy is still terrible," he told the board.

Assemblywoman Linda Stender told the board its savings estimates were calculated before toll collectors agreed to the wage and benefit concessions in 2011.

"It appears the drive is to reduce salaries for working people who are living on less than $50,000 a year," she said. "It just doesn't make sense for New Jersey."

Toll collector Nancy Klechner, who said she works at turnpike interchange 5 in Burlington County, called it her "dream job" but said she was consumed with worries of not being able to provide for her disabled daughter.

"I want to keep my job, I want to keep my house," she said. "This has been a constant threat. Privatization will just crush my job."

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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JB Hunt