Highlights From TransAction 2009

A veritable who’s who of NJ transportation converged at the Tropicana in Atlantic City earlier this month for the 33rd annual TransAction Conference. Federal, state, regional and municipal transportation officials and advocates gathered in the gambling mecca to reflect on the year’s achievements, and look forward toward shifting national and state trends.

New at TransAction 2009 was an emphasis on federal policy. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a hot topic throughout the conference, with two panels dedicated to the subject, and plenty of informal discussion on project selection and implementation. USDOT Chief Economist Dr. Jack Wells outlined President Obama’s planned changes in transportation and land use policy, explaining the administration’s new focus on sustainable communities. One way this will translate into policy, Wells explained, is that the cost of transportation will now be included in calculating the cost of living for programs such as affordable housing and urban development.

On the local front, Zoe Baldwin, Tri-State’s NJ Advocate, was a panelist for New Jersey’s Transportation Infrastructure Needs, a session that focused on NJ’s near-term infrastructure and financial needs. As usual, the reauthorization of the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) took center stage, but with a renewed urgency. Panelist Bob Briant Jr., a board member of the Transportation Trust Fund Authority, painted a bleak picture of the capital fund’s immediate future. Due to falling state revenues, the TTF will run out of money earlier than expected. Briant estimated that the TTF must be reauthorized by early 2010 to ensure adequate funding for the fiscal year 2011 capital plan which starts in July 2010. During the question-and-answer portion, audience members from all sectors of the transportation industry expressed concern, agreed that a sustainable reauthorization was needed, and discussed various possible funding mechanisms.

Other conference highlights included a panel called Senior Walkability – Planning for Mobility and Health for Our Senior Population, which examined the growing trend of seniors who rely on walking as transportation as they remain in their homes but give up driver’s licenses.  A 2008 Tri-State Transportation Campaign analysis found that citizens over 65 comprise 12% of New Jersey’s population, but 22% of pedestrian fatalities.

Another panel, NJ DOT’s Red Light Running Camera Program = Safer Intersections, provided some interesting figures on the safety gains made with red light cameras, as well as the revenue opportunities. The current red-light camera pilot program, authorized in 12 communities, is expected to net about $500 million a year – an interesting revenue prospect for transportation if the program were to go online statewide.

Commissioner Steve Dilts explained his vision during Thursday’s luncheon when he said, “The transportation system works in harmony with the greater good that this state can do,” noting that future generations will remember the decisions that are being made today.

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