Spinning toll roads' asphalt into gold
Pennsylvania and New Jersey are considering leasing them to firms. The states could get billions. But at what cost?
By Paul Nussbaum
Inquirer Staff Writer
What is a turnpike worth?
The answer to that billion-dollar question is critical in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where venerable state-owned toll roads now are being viewed less as ribbons of commerce than as streams of revenue.
Political leaders in both states are considering leasing the toll roads to private operators. What the states receive is clear: lots of cash. What they lose is the subject of intense debate.
Estimates of the roads' value vary wildly - from $2 billion to $30 billion for the Pennsylvania Turnpike and from $12 billion to $38 billion or more for the New Jersey Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway. Because there are few examples to look to for guidance, the two states are essentially guinea pigs in their own experiments.
In 1989, a 7.1 earthquake struck the Bay Area which severely damaged many of its elevated highway structures. The Embarcadero Freeway - an ugly, double-decked highway - was replaced with a grand boulevard which emphasizes access to the waterfront and provides people with transportation options like walking, mass transit, and bicycling instead of an emphasis personal vehicle use. In this 12 minute mini-doc, you'll see some of the dramatic changes and how all users benefit when planning takes a pedestrian and people-first attitude.
The Defeat of the Mt. Hood Freeway (Portland, Ore.)
In Oregon, a battle raged for nearly twenty years over the construction of a highway project known as the Mt. Hood Freeway. If approved, the Freeway would have removed more than 1% of all housing stock in Portland. In the mid 1970s, after the proposal's defeat, the city opted to build a mass transit infrastructure. The result is a more pedestrian-friendly and livable city.
TOPP videographer, Clarence Eckerson Jr., takes us to Portland to see the results and posits that his own neighborhood in Brooklyn might have benefited from similar forethought during the planning phase of the Robert Moses-designed Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.