The state Department of Transportation might operate and maintain a parkway that skirts the Palisades in Bergen County.
Palisades Interstate Park Commission officials support a bill proposed last Halloween that would require the DOT to assume responsibility for operating and maintaining the 11-mile New Jersey section of the 38-mile Palisades Interstate Parkway between Fort Lee and the New York state line, which is currently operated and maintained by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission.
State Sen. Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) has presented a bill that, if passed by the legislature and approved by the governor, would require the Department of Transportation to take over these operations following contract negotiations.
“In general, it parallels a strong cooperation between the commissioner and New York State DOT that has existed since 1975,” said Joshua Laird, executive director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. It is impossible to maintain a parkway-specific operation.
The bi-state parkway between the George Washington Bridge and Bear Mountain Bridge in New York began construction in 1947 and was completed in 1957. It is considered a commuting route from Bergen, Rockland, and Orange counties and provides access to the commission’s Hudson River-view parks.
The panel is calculating how much it would cost the DOT to operate and maintain the Parkway, given that some staff and equipment work both in the parks and on the roadway, Laird told NJ Advance Media.
“Both the DOT and (the New Jersey Office of) legislative services have requested the amount,” he said. We are working on the issue.
Stephen Schapiro, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, declined to comment on the plan due to pending legislation. He forwarded cost-related inquiries to the park commission.
Laird stated that the commission lacks the resources to conduct extensive repairs, particularly to replace ageing parkway bridges, or the ability to obtain finance from state or federal sources.
He stated that the commission does not get revenue from the state Transportation Trust Fund, is ineligible for federal support, and lacks the power to issue bonds and borrow money to finance big parkway projects. The largest source of revenue is gasoline sales at parkway service areas, which have decreased since the state gas tax was hiked in 2016, no longer offering cheaper gas than in neighbouring New York.
“The advantageous gas tax in New Jersey has benefited us for years,” said Laird. The increase in gas tax decreased commission revenues.
In 2017, the volume of gasoline sales plummeted from 25 million gallons to less than 15 million gallons, he claimed. A franchise operator of the service regions has petitioned the commission to be exempted from adhering to a minimum of $3 million in annual sales revenue.
Additionally, the commission collects cash from summonses issued by the Palisades Park Police.
The Palisades Interstate Park Commission has estimated income of $2.27 million from gas sales and $580,000 from court revenue for the state’s fiscal year 2023, which runs from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023. Park commission officials did not release its 2023 budget projections.
Laird told the state senate Transportation Committee on January 12 that the park commission requested repaving of the New Jersey part of the parkway in 2015. In 2014, former New Jersey state senator Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat from Bergen County, took the state transportation commissioner for a ride on the Parkway.
Laird stated that the NJDOT inspects parkway bridges every two years, and none have had their weight limit changed due to structural difficulties.
“Every parkway bridge has concerns that need to be addressed, but none of the situations are so bad that we’ve had to adopt load restrictions to yet,” he added. “We also do not permit commercial vehicles on the Parkway, as the steady weight of trucks would be detrimental to our infrastructure.”
Laid told the committee that despite this and ongoing roadwork using commission funding, there are “expected symptoms of deterioration that indicate the road will need to be repaved and there are multiple red flag issues on overpasses.” The parkway, which is 65 years old, is in a slow and inexorable collapse.
The commission has been plagued by terrible luck. Alpine’s police station and second-floor commission offices were damaged by a fire attributed to an electrical fault. This structure is still being reconstructed.
The park police were also involved in a number of incidents, including two lawsuits initiated by officers against a supervisor, the most recent of which was filed in February 2022.
In December 2018, a grand jury accused former park police chief Michael Coppolla on six drug offences, including third-degree cocaine possession and delivery. Coppola was sentenced to probation, penalties, and drug treatment in the month of May 2019.
A damning investigation from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office revealed that he ran a “awards and incentives” programme for officers who wrote the most citations and made the most arrests. He was suspended in July 2018 as a result. According to the study, some of the benefits included improved parking places, newer police vehicles, and even dinners paid for with Palisades Interstate Park Commission cash.