A thorough review of New Jersey’s draft 2009 capital program offers some troubling insight into the Garden State’s future transportation priorities. In the short term, NJDOT continues to abide by its nationally recognized “fix-it-first” investment strategy, prioritizing road and bridge maintenance and repair over new capacity expansion. But beyond 2010, spending on new roads and road widenings is projected to consume a larger chunk of the state’s scarce transportation funding.
All together, the program provides $3.3 billion in funding for the state’s roads and transit systems, with $1.98 billion going to NJDOT and $1.29 billion set aside for transit investments.
The Campaign’s examination of the more than 400 NJDOT projects included in the draft capital program reveals four major themes:
- NJDOT continues to prioritize road and bridge maintenance, dedicating 44% of the FY2009 capital spending to repair, rehabilitation, resurfacing, and replacement projects. NJDOT’s prioritization of “fix-it-first” projects is critical given the state’s pressing infrastructure needs — the Garden State boasts the third worst roads in the nation.
- Spending on capacity expansion projects is projected to increase in coming years, threatening to undermine NJDOT’s “fix-it-first” goals. While FY2009 funding for expansion projects remains a sliver of the total capital program at just 1.5%, by 2011the share of total funding for widening and new roads is projected to grow to nearly 8%.
- Progress on smart growth projects stalled. Only a handful of the 17 New Jersey Future in Transportation (NJFIT) smart growth projects in the hopper are slated to receive funding according to the capital program. Even more troubling, two projects originally tapped for smart growth improvements have been transformed into major widening projects, all but abandoning efforts to link land use and transportation and find a more sustainable congestion relief solution.
- Funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects has slipped, with the total amount dedicated to those improvements falling 14% and the share of funding declining 12% to just 1.5% of the total. Though NJDOT remains a national leader in spending on bicyclists and pedestrians, sustained funding is critical if the state hopes to continue to reduce bicyclist and pedestrians deaths.
The Campaign’s report offers several recommendations for keeping NJDOT’s reputation as a national model for progressive transportation policy in tact:
- Resurrect legislation mandating the NJDOT to invest in fix-it-first projects, and legislate a 4% cap on investment in capacity expansion projects.
- Take a hard look at proposed expansion projects and call off projects that won’t offer sustainable congestion relief.
- Create a consistent Fix-it-First policy between all State transportation agencies, including NJDOT and NJTA.
- Boost funding for the state’s NJFIT program to ensure continued progress on smart growth projects.
- Increase funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects and target it to places with the highest number of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths.
Image: TSTC analysis shows that new roads, road widenings and other capacity-expanding projects will consume a growing share of the NJ Capital Plan in future years.