NJ Ruined the Garden State Parkway

Your drive to the Shore will be much less pleasant this summer. Thanks Turnpike Authority!

All of my life I’ve spent my summers “down the Shore.” Used to be exit 63, now it’s 36, but, either way, I’ve spent hundreds of hours driving the Garden Sate Parkway. The unique and beautiful highway was created in the early 1950s and designed to provide drivers with a modern, high-speed thoroughfare that looks and feels like a country road. The GSP in South Jersey has only two lanes of traffic going in each direction, separated by a wide median filled with indigenous plants and trees. The road slopes gently, curves slightly and doesn’t offend the senses; in fact, it’s the most pleasant road I have ever driven.

Until now. I drove to the Shore last weekend, and it looked like some logging company pulled off a slash-and-burn in the middle of the night. The trees on both sides of each direction of traffic and on both sides of each exit and entrance ramp between mile markers 30 and 64.5 have been decimated, cut down just above the ground, leaving a path of stumps and underbrush that looks like Mount St. Helens. Thirty-four miles of oak, maple, cedar and pine trees have been removed. When I saw it I actually felt nauseous, physically ill. What the hell is going on?

It seems the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (already starting to cringe? Any agency with the word “authority” in its title is shady by definition) has spent $5.9 million on the tree removal project claiming it was to make way for a $900 million widening project, a project that is unscheduled and, more importantly, unfunded. That’s roughly $117,000 per mile of taxpayer money to cut down trees.

Wait a minute. I’m pretty sure that the last thing Governor Chrisite says before he goes to bed and just after he wakes up each morning is, “We’re broke. New Jersey is broke, people!” He says it all day, and I believe him. So what gives? Call me cynical but I think I might have this one figured out. You think the NJTA had some money they needed to spend so they could arrive at the next budget debate empty-handed? Can’t ask for a piece of the pie when you’ve still got coin in the bank, folks. The NJTA knows damn well that the funding for a widening project is not forthcoming in New Jersey’s foreseeable future so they went outside with their chainsaws, stuck their middle finger up in the air to the taxpaying residents of South Jersey and stated slashing away.

Now homeowners are concerned about property values, noise and privacy issues, not to mention the real possibility of serious runoff erosion. Not to worry, the NJTA has come up with a plan. They can’t offer much advice on the negative effect on property value in this already depressed real estate market, or the noise and glaring headlights of traffic zipping by your window at night, but they’ve got a handle on the erosion glitch. The tree stumps have not been removed or even cut flush to the ground. No, they’ve been hacked off about a foot or so above the ground line so as to catch and deter water runoff. Can you picture that? Yea, I know, Mount St. Helens.