The official start to summer, better known as Memorial Day weekend, is traditionally one of the busiest times for roadways and bridges in New Jersey.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to traffic declines and reduced revenues for the transportation system overall, according to the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, an association for owners and operators of toll facilities and businesses that serve the industry.
During the association’s briefing called “The State of U.S. Transportation During the COVID-19 Pandemic”, national and local transportation leaders discussed topics on how social distancing and stay-at-home edicts have led to the reduced numbers, the impact on the industry, the American driving public, roads and bridges, and the future of the transportation industry as a whole.
“If this were any other year, we would be talking about Memorial Day traffic, one of the busiest travel weekends of the year. Instead, we are talking about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our nation’s economy and our daily lives. Since the middle of March, our members’ toll facilities have seen traffic and revenue declines of 50 to 90%,” Patrick D. Jones, executive director and CEO of IBTTA, said.
At the briefing, Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, said New Jersey’s roads have experienced a significant economic and operational impacts since the onset of COVID-19.
Even from the earliest days of the state’s work-at-home plans, transportation was deemed essential, Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. For the NJTA — which operates the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway — and the SJTA — which operates of the Atlantic City Expressway and the Atlantic City airport — that meant devising a plan to continue operations on a reduced or alternating work schedule and nearly 70% of its staff working from home.
Traffic in March on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway decreased by 29.3% and revenues were down by 25.1%, according to Gutierrez-Scaccetti. In comparison, April was down 61.5% in traffic and 61.6% in revenue. For the four-month period that ended April 2020, traffic was down 22.5% or 45.3 million transactions, and revenue was down 21.9% or $108 million.
On the Atlantic City Expressway in March, she said, traffic decreased by 35% and revenue was down by 33%. April’s traffic was down by 67% and 66%, respectively. For the fourth month period, Expressway traffic was down 24% and revenues down 23%.
“This has been an extraordinary period in our lifetimes. Our professional and personal lives have been impacted in ways we never imagined. But we have always counted on our transportation system to be there for us. Transportation professionals have stepped up to this challenge to keep our systems running. My gratitude to all of the men and women who have worked tirelessly to keep our first responders, front-line workers, and the essential personnel moving,” she said.
In response, the NJTA will issue $259 million in bonds to refinance certain debt. The SJTA has determined there’s no need for additional financing, Gutierrez-Scaccetti said.