New Jersey 2012: Looking Back on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Transit-oriented development in New Brunswick, which was designated a Transit Village. Tri-State and NJ Future partnered to ensure continued funding for the nationally recognized program. | Photo: NJ Future

There were many transportation stories that grabbed headlines in New Jersey in 2012, none more prominent than Superstorm Sandy’s impact on the state’s transportation infrastructure. New Jersey’s transportation infrastructure was so devastated by Superstorm Sandy that over a month after the storm, immediate impacts were still evident. Lacking foresight, ignoring climate change study recommendations and failing to maintain existing infrastructure in a state of good repair proved to be a costly combination for NJ Transit, NJDOT and NJ residents, resulting in $400 million in transit damages and an additional $800 million needed for resiliency upgrades. New Jersey, like the rest of the region, has a long way to go to create the infrastructure needed that can help the state weather future storms but also ensure a more sustainable transportation policy.

Beyond Sandy, however, New Jersey celebrated many successes last year, even if the Garden State also took a few steps back.

The Good:

Complete Streets – Complete Streets in New Jersey gained serious momentum in 2012.  In the spring, NJDOT embarked on a 12-stop Complete Streets workshop tour and kept its promise to launch a NJDOT Complete Streets website in June. To date, NJDOT, three counties and 42 municipalities have passed Complete Streets policies, with 22 policies passed in 2012 alone.

NJDOT Transit Village program– After being defunded in 2011, Tri-State and NJ Future partnered, along with several mayors and elected officials, to ensure $1 million for the nationally recognized Transit Village Program was restored in NJDOT’s 2012 capital budget.  The City of East Orange and the Borough of Dunellen became the 25th and 26th municipalities to receive Transit Village designation and the program is now being cited by Connecticut policymakers as a potential model for a similar program in the state.

Safe Streets to Transit – The Safe Streets to Transit program also received a $500,000 increase in FY 2013.  The program, which awards state funds to municipalities seeking to make streets safer around transit hubs, now has a budget of $1 million.

The Bad:

Red Light Cameras – Several NJ legislators have taken issue with the five year Red Light Running (RLR) pilot program in NJ, calling into question the integrity and effectiveness of the program.  While the jury is still out on whether the legislators will be successful in their fight against safer streets, one issue remains clear: red light cameras save lives.

American Dream Meadowlands – It has been over 19 months since Governor Christie announced plans for Triple Five developers to revive the stalled Xanadu project (which has since been renamed American Dream Meadowlands).  In 2012, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and project developers have been sued by the Giants and Jets, taxes have been raised on East Rutherford residents as a direct result of the project, and there’s no clear and adequate traffic mitigation plan in sight, potentially creating a traffic nightmare for the region.

The Ugly:

Transportation Trust Fund -  Debt made a serious comeback in New Jersey in 2012. In June, Governor Christie signed A3205, which authorized the state to issue $1.247 billion in new debt to pay for transportation needs for the fiscal year. In order to fill revenue shortfalls in the state’s General Fund, New Jersey redirected $260.6 million in toll revenue dedicated to transportation needs in year two of Governor Christie’s 5-year transportation capital program. The move will ensure an increase in the proportion of New Jersey’s transportation funding supported by debt.

What to Expect in 2013:

If New Jersey’s elected officials do not muster the political courage to make the difficult, but necessary, funding choices in 2013, next year’s transportation funding plan will be more of the same, especially if revenues are lower than expected, as certain experts in Trenton predict. In fact, just last week the Office of Legislative Services projected a $705 million revenue shortfall only halfway through the fiscal year. Even further into the future, the remainder of Governor Christie’s five-year transportation spending plan calls for funding that relies upon general fund transfers, which, when combined, amounts to over $1.3 billion from 2014-2016. The need for New Jersey’s elected officials to introduce legislation that will identify stable, long term revenue sources for transportation in 2013 has never been clearer.

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