New Jersey Turnpike on the Block?

Gov. Jon Corzine wants to lease or sell New Jersey's toll roads, hoping to decrease the Garden State's $30 billion debt. But the New Jersey Turnpike is near and dear to many hearts.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now down the East Coast in New Jersey, the Governor Jon Corzine has floated a plan to make money of some of the state's roads.

He wants to solve some of his state's financial problems with a plan to lease or sell the toll routes. It's unclear how New Jerseyans would respond to anybody messing with the New Jersey Turnpike.

Nancy Solomon reports.

NANCY SOLOMON: It just might be one of the ugliest stretches of road in the country. But when Michael Rockland was researching his book "Looking for America on the New Jersey Turnpike", he found a strange beauty in the industrial landscape that fits well with the state's self-deprecating humor.

Mr. MICHAEL AARON ROCKLAND (Author, "Looking for America on the New Jersey Turnpike"): The best part of revenge is not flee from your attackers but embrace with a saying, you know, instead of taking offense that what exit jokes embrace the what exit jokes, which is exactly that kind of New Jersey moxie, the tiding(ph) that puts out of t-shirts that says New Jersey only the tough survive or Bruce Springsteen.

(Soundbite of song, "New Jersey Turnpike")

Mr. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (Singer): (Singing) New Jersey Turnpike, riding on a wet night.

Mr. ROCKLAND: Or "The Sopranos." They are all linked to a kind of tough guy image of New Jersey. Instead of defensively saying you're wrong about us, we celebrate ourselves what's in all, and I think the turnpike is part of that.

Mr. TOM LIMONCELLI (Computer Consultant, Whatexit.org): The New Jersey Turnpike is very essential to our psyche because it unites all of New Jersey.

SOLOMON: Tom Limoncelli is a computer consultant with the Web site called Whatexit.org. He worries that selling or changing the name of the turnpike would spoil references to the road in popular culture, like the film "Being John Malkovich."

(Soundbite of movie, "Being John Malkovich")

Mr. JOHN CUSACK (Actor): (As Craig Schwartz) There's a tiny door in my office, Maxine. It's a portal, and it takes you inside John Malkovich. You see the world through John Malkovich's eyes, and after about 15 minutes, you spin out into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.

(Soundbite of song, "N.J., N.J.")

Mr. JOE PISCOPO (Comedian): (Singing) I wanna wake up where the diners do not close, there's that Turnpike South Exit 13, holding my noseā€¦

SOLOMON: The highway is central in Joe Piscopo's satire of Sinatra's classic, renamed "N.J.N.J." Of course, for many New Jerseyans, the turnpike will always be the turnpike no matter what it's named or who owns it. Whatever the scenario, it's fairly certain the tolls will be rising, so maybe that will be Jersey's ultimate comeback since half of all the paying customers are from out of state.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Solomon in South Orange, New Jersey, Bethex(ph) at 15.

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