Tolls vs. Safety
From the Garden State Parkway's web site (Jan. 2003):
Q: How safe is the Parkway?
A: The Parkway's safety record is one of the best in the nation - consistently better than the state and national averages. Using the money from tolls, the Parkway has engineered innovative safety devices into the roadway including pavement reflectors, breakaway signposts, rumble strips on the shoulders and state of the art guiderail and impact attenuaters.
CAT is not questioning that the Parkway is a well engineered road - it is. The problem is: That part of the Parkway has been paid for many, many times over. It's the tollbooths are the most dangerous part of the Parkway. Simply put...
The Parkway would be safer without tolls!
How do we know?
1. Accident Statistics
First, there are the actual numbers. Edward Heeren did a study of the accident statistics posted on the NJDOT web site and discovered this:
And for those of you who like data, here's the same graph using 0.1 mile increments from the tollbooths, along with the breakdown for specific plazas (generated by Excel from data obtained from the DOT web site).
Accident Study Update, Feb. 2004
Question: Has E-ZPass (...and all of the subsequent and ongoing education campaigns, lane striping, and tollbooth reconfigurations) reduced tollbooth accidents?
SURPRISE! Accidents around tollbooths have been going up since E-ZPass was installed!
But wait, there's more...
Express E-ZPass is ready (Star-Ledger, 1/12/04) - The first two of six planned express lanes have been completed.
High-speed toll creates perils (Star-Ledger, 1/15/04) - Amid screeching and honking, Turnpike vows to add even more signs.
High-speed E-ZPass creates an even bigger speed differential between the (E-ZPass) haves and have-nots, a condition which made the HOV lanes on Rt. 80 & 287 so dangerous, eventually leading to their demise. Unfortunately, it will take a few more years (and untold $millions in "improvements") before we'll see the statistics.
2. Comments from Parkway drivers
Then there is what the people who actually drive the Parkway say. Here is just a few of the complaints we've received:
"We drive from Brick to Clark daily and have seen plenty of accidents and near misses from cars darting across lanes at the tolls."
"Came close to having an accident more times than I can remember, hope we get rid of these booths before I do more than come close!!"
"I'm sick and tired of risking my life (LITERALLY!) in order to pay the damn Parkway tolls!!! You know how many near-accidents I've been in at the Raritan Toll Plaza? And E-Z Pass has only made things worse!!!"
3. The Fatalities
And finally there are the actual accidents. It is well publicized by anti-toll activists that Connecticut removed their tolls after a truck slammed into three cars stopped at a toll plaza, killing seven and injuring many more.
It's simply goes against common sense to put barriers across an otherwise unobstructed hi-speed highway. Hi-speed traffic right next to low-speed traffic is a dangerous situation, and this is exactly the condition tolls create. Even Hi-Speed E-ZPass won't solve this because there will always be cars without E-ZPass that will have to stop, then merge back into traffic.
Do the math: Toll plaza fatalities
In a Star Ledger column, Do the math: Toll plaza fatalities (7/9/02), Paul Mulshine calculates 1.4 accidents occur each day at Parkway tollbooths - more than 500 accidents a year that could be prevented by eliminating tolls.
An official at the New Jersey Highway Authority, which runs the Parkway, told Mulshine that it isn't as bad as it sounds, and that most of the crashes at toll plazas are fender-benders.
But in April of 2002, three teenaged girls were stopped at the New Gretna toll plaza when a delivery truck slammed into them. The driver of the car was slightly injured, the front seat passenger had to be taken to intensive care with fractures to her skull and neck, and the girl in the back seat was killed.
In Mulshine's column, Jerold Zaro, the chairman of the Highway Authority, defended tolls with:
"While these incidents are most regrettable, it was not the toll plaza that caused these accidents".
It wasn't? The Highway Authority has not released reports on the other fatalities at toll plazas, but when it comes to the one at issue here - the one that killed Donna Clayont - it's quite clear that the accident would never have occurred if the girls had not had to stop to pay the toll.
They certainly didn't stop in the middle of a superhighway just for the fun of it. They stopped to pay the state of New Jersey 35 cents. And no matter how you do the numbers, that doesn't compute.