New Jersey 2014: Looking Back on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

NJ Year In ReviewTransportation was quite possibly the hottest topic in New Jersey in 2014, seeing major highs, major lows and everything in between. Momentum for improving bicycle and pedestrian safety continued with the passage of new Complete Streets policies, bike accommodations along the rebuild of Route 35 in Ocean County, and new support for the Circuit trail network. Legislative leadership finally started realistic conversations about addressing the transportation funding crisis.

But for just about every step forward, there was another step back. Before the paint was even dry, Newark suspended enforcement of newly-installed protected bike lanes, critical safety legislation appears to be indefinitely stalled in the Senate, and the red light camera pilot program ended. Port Authority reform in particular turned out to be a robust source of lows, including blocked transparency efforts and misguided capital programming priorities.

But by far the biggest fail for New Jersey in 2014 was the fact that the state’s looming transportation financing crisis remains unresolved with less than six months left until the Transportation Trust Fund runs dry.

The Good

“Everything is on the table.” — The grave state of the Transportation Trust Fund generated a deluge of attention towards restoring solvency to the TTF.  A total of five special hearings were held by the Senate and Assembly Transportation Committees on the state of transportation funding, resulting in a number of solutions “on the table.” Transportation leadership in New Jersey— including NJDOT Commissioner FoxSpeaker PrietoAssemblyman Wisniewski and Senator Lesniakwas boldly vocal about the need for an increase in the state gas tax, which has not been increased since 1988 and is the second lowest in the country.

Complete Streets progress continues — The Garden State continues to lead the tri-state region with 14 new Complete Street policies added in 2014 as of October, bringing the total number of policies to seven counties and 111 municipalities.

Bicycle network grows — The Circuit received $8.6 million in funding to support the continuation of the 750-mile regional trail network, 300 miles of which are now open for use with 50 more underway. Once complete, more than half of the CamdenSouth Jersey-Great Philadelphia region’s population will live within a mile of the Circuit. Also in 2014, Tri-State, along with NJ Bike & Walk Coalition and Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, launched an all-out campaign to ensure that the 12.5-mile,eight-municipality rebuild of Route 35 in Ocean County served as national model for implementation of Complete Streets. On April 1, the New Jersey Department of Transportation revealed revised plans which now include ten miles of bike infrastructure.

The Bad

Red light camera program goes dark — After five years, the red light camera pilot program officially came to an end in December 2014.  Supporters of the program cited myriad motorist, pedestrian and cyclist safety benefits, while those opposed insisted it was nothing more than a cash cow for municipalities. While legislative efforts have been made to restore and revamp the program, there is no indication that the program will be back in the near future.

Port Authority Bus Terminal — Despite the PABT being the busiest bus terminal in the world, it took relentless calls for equal investment in and improved conditions from legislative champion Senator Loretta Weinberg and a series of commuter hearings to draw the attention of the Port Authority Commissioners, who collectively have zero transportation experience and had not previously visited PABT, to the “obsolete” bus terminal.

Safe Passing legislation stalled — Despite the increase in bicycle infrastructure, New Jersey dropped to 12th place in the League of American Bicyclists’ latest Bicycle Friendly States report — the Garden State’s lowest ranking in the seven years that the League has been publishing the annual report. The League identified the lack of a safe passing law and a vulnerable user law as the state’s key shortcomings. These legislative efforts already exist, but have stalled indefinitely in the Senate Transportation Committee, as Chairman Nicholas Sacco has yet to post the safe passing bill.

The Ugly

Cross-Hudson transportation infrastructure — Since Governor Christie cancelled the Access to the Region’s Core project in 2010, the burden to address cross-Hudson capacity has fallen to Amtrak, and with the exception of funds for the “tunnel box” under Hudson Yards, Amtrak’s much-needed Gateway project is still lacking much-needed funds. A new obstacle in this ongoing funding debacle is a worrisome engineering report that prompted a strong statement from Amtrak’s CEOthe agency has less than 20 years to build new tunnels or the region will pay an even bigger price.

Port Authority reform — After being held up in the State Assembly Transportation Committee, two significant bills aiming to increase transparency and accountability in the opaque bi-state agency made their way to Governor Christie’s desk. However, the day after Christmas, both governors approved the bill to hold the Port Authority to FOIL and OPRA laws in both states, but they vetoed the bill approved by 612 legislators in four chambers in two states to reform governance, which would have put in place fundamental reforms necessary to make the Port Authority far more accountable and restore it to its original mission of transportation.

New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund — Despite many proposed solutions, the public has yet to learn how the legislature will replenish the TTF, which will run dry in just six months.

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