Road Widening Starts to Creep Back Into NJDOT Plans

Boosted by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, NJDOT’s proposed Fiscal Year 2010 Capital Program dedicates nearly $3.6 billion in state and federal funding to highway, transit, freight, and bicycling and pedestrian capital projects throughout the state.  The program sets aside $1.4 billion to NJ Transit, with the remaining $2.2 billion going to NJDOT.  The total dollar amount is up about 10% from last year’s Capital Program. But Tri-State’s analysis of the capital program confirms our concerns that NJDOT is heading in the wrong direction. The agency will more than double the share of the road budget that goes to expansion projects.

NJDOT plans to spend a greater share of its budget on road widening in FY2010 than it did in 2009 -- and even greater shares in the coming years.

NJDOT plans to greatly increase the share of its budget going to road widening in the coming years.

TSTC combed through the Capital Program and identified several projects that add significant capacity to the roadway network but weren’t identified as such by NJDOT.  These include more than $300 million to widen 8.7 miles of Route 1 in Middlesex County to six lanes, and $80 million to begin work on the controversial Route 206 Bypass in Hillsborough Township.

Adding these 12 projects to those NJDOT categorized as expansion brings the total share of FY2010 highway funding set aside for capacity expansion to 7.5%, jumping to a high of 8.9% in 2011. (If one were to go solely by NJDOT’s classifications, the FY2010 Capital Program budgets 2.7 percent of highway funding to capacity expansion.  That’s almost twice the share slated for expansion projects in FY2009.)

And these calculations don’t include funds slated for the NJ Turnpike and Garden State Parkway widenings, which are excluded from the NJDOT Capital Program because they are funded through the NJ Turnpike Authority.

NJDOT’s plans for future years present a worrisome trend away from a fix-it-first strategy that has clearly paid dividends. In 1998, the Federal Highway Administration rated 39% of NJ’s bridges deficient. By 2008, this had improved to 33.5%.

That is significant, but New Jersey’s bridges are still 10th worst among all states and there is clearly more work to be done. The good news is that more than 35% of the FY2010 Capital Program is specifically dedicated to road and bridge rehabilitation and preservation, with much of the rest of the funding also going to maintenance projects, though not classified as such. But it’s an open question whether NJDOT will remain a national model for prioritizing fix-it-first projects over the construction of new and wider roads.

Tri-State’s analysis of the capital program confirms our concerns that NJDOT is shifting a greater share of limited funds to roadway expansion projects (see last year’s analysis of NJDOT’s FY2009 Capital Program).
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