New Jersey’s Super Secret Capital Program

Longtime MTR readers may have wondered where Tri-State’s annual analysis of New Jersey’s capital plan is. Typically, we’ve produced a detailed analysis of the capital plan in the late spring or early summer. In April of this year we published a brief “preview” of the 2011 capital plan, in anticipation of a more thorough analysis once we got hold of NJDOT’s capital plan database.

Data from last year suggested that the proportion of NJ's capital program dedicated to expansion would increase in 2011. Is that still the plan? NJDOT hasn't released data that would allow the public to find out.

Unfortunately, we’re still waiting on the full capital plan, and all of our requests to date (both to NJDOT Commissioner Jim Simpson directly and through the state Freedom of Information Act) have been denied.

NJDOT has published a listing of fiscal year 2011 projects, organized by county and roadway. But other details of the agency’s planned capital investments are not included in the files released. For example, Tri-State has produced a six-year running analysis of the state’s planned spending on bicycle and pedestrian projects, looking not just at the total amount set aside for those types of projects, but also the federal and state programs that were tapped to pay for the projects. We’ve also examined the state’s future spending plans, identifying a worrisome trend toward backsliding away from fix-it-first and toward more spending on highway expansion. Neither of these analyses is possible without access to the state’s full database.

For the most part, our recent findings have been quite positive and shown that NJDOT remains a national model for progressive transportation policies. So we’re not sure why NJDOT is so reluctant to share the full 2011 capital program. With the Transportation Trust Fund headed for bankruptcy at the beginning of fiscal year 2012, it could be simply a matter of the state’s planners not knowing how big the capital program will be in future years. Still, recent decisions by Governor Christie make us wonder if there’s something to hide.

Image: TSTC graphic using data from NJDOT.

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