How NJ’s Bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund Costs Drivers an Extra $600 a Year

Photo: state.nj.us

Photo: state.nj.us

A recent Star-Ledger editorial discussed the issue of pothole maintenance as a seasonal issue that’s unrelated to New Jersey’s larger transportation issues:

The four-wheeled obstacle course is a New Jersey tradition. Who hasn’t felt his skeleton rattle after driving across a car-eating crater disguised as an ordinary puddle?

True, New Jersey’s transportation infrastructure is troubled. But potholes are seasonal, not symptoms of a larger problem. Anywhere wintertime temperatures drop below freezing, potholes pockmark the landscape.

At last year’s budget hearing, New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson stated in his testimony that 41 percent of the state’s highway pavement is already in unacceptable condition. As a result, New Jersey motorists spend, on average, $601 per year in additional vehicle maintenance costs. In other words, because New Jersey can’t keep up with the cost of maintaining roads, motorists end up spending hundreds on “flat tires, bent wheels, wheel alignments and axle damage.”

According to a New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) report released in June, $21.3 billion is needed over the next five years just to maintain existing roads and bridges. With Governor Christie checking the sofa for change each year to meet current promised spending levels (which is at an historically stagnant level), the lack of a new revenue source, such as a gas tax increase, puts the State in a bind to fund the much-needed increase. It’s not as if this is politically impossible: just across the Delaware River, Pennsylvania passed a bipartisan transportation bill in 2013 that includes the state’s second gas tax increase in eight years.

But how much would a gas tax increase cost New Jersey drivers, who haven’t seen a state gas tax increase since 1988? According to the same NJPP report, “[a] typical New Jersey driver of a car averaging 30 miles-per-gallon and driving 10,000 miles a year would pay just $16 more a year.”

Whether New Jersey’s elected leaders will find a way to keep up with maintenance demands remains to be seen. But with the state spending less this year to fix and maintain New Jersey’s existing road and bridge infrastructure than it did last year — and with a bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund — drivers shouldn’t expect conditions to change without pressure on Governor Christie and the Legislature to find new revenue.

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