Road Expansion Creeps Back in New Jersey’s FY 2016 Transportation Capital Program

Photo: bankbryan/Flickr

The New Jersey Department of Transportation’s 2016 capital program dedicates most of its funding towards road and bridge maintenance, but places greater emphasis on road expansion than in the previous capital program.

According to a new Tri-State Transportation Campaign analysis, expansion projects in the Transportation Capital Program for 2016 have increased by 140 percent, from $54 million in the FY2015 capital program to nearly $131 million dollars in the FY2016 program. This is a disappointing change, but as we noted in our discussion last summer on the draft capital program, the extra money for expansion is mostly explained by the inclusion of two major projects: the Route 72 Manahawkin Bay Bridge and the Route 295/42 Direct Connect projects. NJDOT pushed these two projects out of the 2015 capital program because the state had paid construction contracts through until 2016. Now the projects are gearing up for their next phases and the state is paying up in order to keep the work going. Combined, these two projects add nearly $63 million to the expansion tally.

In 2016, New Jersey plans to decrease the amount it spends to maintain the state’s roads and bridges by 16 percent. That means that for every dollar spent on roads or bridges, about 18 cents will go towards expansion while 68 cents will go toward maintaining existing assets. Last year only about 7 cents went towards expansion, with nearly 80 cents invested in system preservation.

For every Dollar Spent on a Road or Bridge Project…

  2016 2015 2014 2013
Expansion 17.6 ¢ 7.2 ¢ 24.5 ¢ 24.6 ¢
Miscellaneous Road/Bridge  14.4 ¢ 13.3 ¢ 12.8 ¢ 12.8 ¢
Preservation  68.0 ¢ 79.5 ¢ 62.6 ¢ 62.6 ¢
Total  $1.00 $1.00 $1.00 $1.00

The lack of attention to preserving existing assets is especially disheartening. According to a 2014 report, 35 percent of New Jersey’s roads are in poor condition and 36 percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Driving on the state’s roads costs drivers over $600 a year in added vehicle repair costs. A 10-cent increase in the gas tax would go a long way toward lowering these costs while imposing only an additional $53 per year for drivers.

Newly appointed NJDOT commissioner Richard Hammer said recently that “the days of system expansion in New Jersey are over.” Hopefully Hammer’s statement moves beyond rhetoric and will be put into action in future capital programs, because it’s still not clear that New Jersey has lost its appetite for road and bridge expansion. According to a press release from New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith, the federal government has promised to provide $12 million to fund a 1.2-mile road widening of Route 66 in Neptune Township from two to four lanes. Construction is expected to begin in 2019.

One notable positive about this year’s capital program is the influx of money for New Jersey Transit. NJT will receive $2.1 billion or about 42 percent of total capital program funds. But, as we noted in our analysis of the draft capital program, most of the transit money is dedicated under Section 5324 program of MAP-21, which allocates federal funds to repair infrastructure in the wake of natural disasters. That requirement means that unless New Jersey is comfortable with leveraging natural disasters to improve its transit system, the state will need to find new sources of funding to keep trains and buses running.

Tri-State’s analysis found the bike and pedestrian projects remain flat at 2.5 percent of the 2016 capital program, amounting to just over $48 million. There are a number of road and bridge projects that include bike and pedestrian amenities, such as widening a sidewalk after resurfacing a road. Fifteen percent of all road and bridge funding – $112 million – will go toward projects that include pedestrian and/or bicycle infrastructure.

In order to ensure that the state institutionalizes sustainable transportation policy, Governor Christie, the New Jersey Legislature and NJDOT should:

  • Support an increase in the overall size of the NJDOT capital program with new revenue sources. Since 2007, contributions from the Transportation Trust Fund to the capital program have declined by 15 percent. New revenue should be sustainable, long-term, dedicated, and not a source of one-shots or increased borrowing.
  • Keep road and bridge expansion projects to no more than four percent of capital program funds.
  • Prioritize pedestrian and bicycle projects on roadways with high pedestrian and bicycle crash rates.
  • Follow the NJDOT Complete Streets policy and ensure that road and bridge projects incorporate bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure whenever appropriate.
  • Ensure that emerging trails, such as The Circuit in Southern New Jersey, receive funding for planning, design and construction, and  prioritize pedestrian and bicyclist improvements on roads that provide access to these trails.
  • Enact dedicated revenues to adequately support NJ Transit’s operating budget, and stop capital fund transfers from NJT’s capital program to its operating budget. Since FY 2012, $2 billion has been transferred from NJT’s capital budget to its operating budget.

In addition to these broader recommendations, Tri-State has also created specific recommendations for road and bridge projects and for bicycle and pedestrian projects.

3 Comments on "Road Expansion Creeps Back in New Jersey’s FY 2016 Transportation Capital Program"

  1. Where is the line between “system expansion” and “system preservation” in cases when maintenance needs require replacing, say, a functionally obsolete bridge with a wider span that meets today’s standards and demand? After all, replacing a functionally obsolete bottleneck of a bridge that has two ten-foot wide lanes, with a modern four-lane bridge that has shoulders and 12-foot lanes, both reduces the number of bridges in poor condition AND adds lanes to the roadway network.

  2. Jerry Foster | November 17, 2015 at 3:04 pm |

    “Functionally obsolete” is techspeak for not structurally obsolete, so it goes into the system expansion category. So does “congestion relief,” more techspeak for expansion. Looks like over $109 million in congestion relief specifically tied to individual expansion projects.

  3. South Jersey Urbanists agrees!

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