Posted: July 24, 2013 in Uncategorized

NJ19704442i1Adios Garden State Parkway: Toll hike triggers cheap gene

TUESDAY, 10 JANUARY 2012 11:2




It’s about 77 miles from my house in Bergen County to Yardley, PA, my destination this day.

Mapquest says 1 hour and 42 minutes, but 30 miles of it involves the Garden State Parkway.

And we all know by now what that means: more money for the same ride.

I’m not paying it.

I’d rather drink the Passaic River water. The section below the dam that feeds into the Newark Bay. Where the PCBs await.

I’d rather watch “Jersey Shore” re-runs. With commercials.

I’d rather cover New Year’s Day municipal re-organization meetings at 9 a.m. As if in the 30 years since I covered my first such meeting anything has gotten organized.

Big talk. I still have to get to my meeting in under two hours. And I hadn’t really thought this through.

The truth is I had forgotten about the hike until I came to my first toll on the parkway at exit 150 southbound in Essex County and the new sign said $1.50, up a half a buck since the last time I drove this road on Christmas Day.

Like every other resident of New Jersey, I cursed the continued chiseling.

Then the cheap genes kicked in. I come from a long line of penny-pinchers, Depression-era babies who no matter how much money they made in their lives, still think tomorrow is bankrupt city. They say some traits skip a generation but not the cheap gene this time around.

My father was so crafty at circumventing the tolls in and out of New York from New Jersey that side streets in the Bowery are named after him. The only toll he paid was to the squeegie guys down there. By the time he finished driving the family back and forth to Long Island from Jersey, the Port Authority OWED him $3.

Those glory days memories rattled around as I let my E-ZPass take the first hit of the new toll hike year and vowed to make that my last toll of the day. This could add up over the year as Karen Rouse, a transportation writer with The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) wrote. From top to bottom on the GSP, the freight would be $6.75 up $2.25 from 2011 rates. The NJ Turnpike would be worse at $13.85 for the length, up $9. But paying more money to ride the turnpike would seem to be the least of your worries based on the horror show that goes on that highway.

Muttering down the parkway another 20 miles until Mapquest’s recommendation of Route 1, I gratefully enter the road that during my college years at Glassboro State College looked more like an Amish country buggy wagon-only lane. Today, it’s a carnival. You can buy a car at every light, see a movie, eat a fast meal, outfit your walk-in closet, worship in several languages, fill up your tank from any oil company you like and visit the Rutgers Law Center. They erected stop lights every four feet just so you don’t miss any purchasing opportunities.

Route 1 plugged nicely into I-95, then PA 332 and in an hour and 45 minutes was cruising into a small business park perched adjacent to a field just waiting to be plowed.

Now what to do on the return, was the question. Did I want to eat the toll at Union County’s line for another $1.50 and then again at exit 160 for Bergen?

Stop it. Does Gov. Chris Christie take guff from hecklers at political events?

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I reversed the ride through Princetonia, sliced the Brunswicks, waved to Rutgers, popped over the Raritan River – fished there, did not eat the catch – and then like a beacon, 287 presented itself. The most perplexing road in N.J., 287 is either a north and south road if you are in New Jersey or an East and West road if you are in New York. How can you not love a road that is that versatile? I love every inch of it and don’t mind the extra 23 miles this day.

(Yes, I know, about $3.15 cents in gas) and about 22 minutes. But I feel exhilarated cutting through Somerset and Morris counties, catching sight of nature’s road kill menu against the woodlands, past Mountain Lakes, (I glower in its direction ever since they beat us in the Group I finals at Giants Stadium a few years earlier) past the Towaco, (You can say the name instead of cursing at tolls from now on) exit where my in-laws live, bend around onto 208 for the home stretch and into town in about two hours.

What a heady experience. Sweat gleamed on my trembling hands. Over 100 miles and not a toll paid. Giddy? I passed giddy 50 miles ago. I took my pulse, wiped my brow. Medic!

Patents on navigation systems with “I have your toll booth right here” route options?

Highway- free holidays? The shore on weekends without the Driscoll Bridge backup? Why not?

From the north, Routes 20 and 21 funnel you into Newark and onto 1-9 (Once classified by a college friend as the only road in the state that gets worse no matter which direction you drive) Then it’s a smorgasbord of options – Route 18 to 34 to 88 and bam, you are smooching with Snooki at Jenkins’ before you know it. Or slide off of route 9 onto 35 or 36 to the nude beaches of Sandy Hook or one of the best beaches in N.J., Presidents Beach in Long Branch.

I needed oxygen. My head was spinning with Mapquest options. Click and drag routes from the Meadowlands to the Pinelands. Jersey would soon be Freedonia. The parkway and turnpike would demand to be free for all, like the Internet.

My father would be proud. Get the squeegies ready.



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