New Jersey’s 2015 Legislative Session Leaves Loose Ends for Transportation Funding

Image: Governor's Office/Mykwain Gainey

Another legislative session has come and gone in New Jersey, and with it goes another opportunity to address the state’s most pressing transportation needs:

Bicyclist and Pedestrian Safety – Despite gaining traction in the beginning of the session, efforts to move the Safe Passing bill (A1577/A1600) were stalled in the Senate Transportation Committee. Approved by the Assembly in June 2014, the bill would have required motorists to maintain a distance of at least four feet when passing a person walking or biking (or any other vulnerable road user). New Jersey remains the only state in the northeast without such protections, despite the fact that cyclist and pedestrian fatalities are so high, the Federal Highway Administration identified New Jersey as a pedestrian “focus state.”

NJ Transit — The agency rounded out 2015 with record poor performance, lacking operating revenue, capital fund raids, a 9 percent fare hike, service cuts and a widening $400 million budget gap. One bill (S2804) could have added two commuters to NJ Transit’s Board of Directions to finally give commuters a voting voice. But a lack of political will to address the agency’s funding struggles caused the bill to get stuck in the Senate. No wonder Ronnie Hakim jumped ship.

Transportation Trust Fund – The biggest disappointment for transportation in the 2015 legislative was perhaps the failure to replenish the near-bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund, which will run dry in less than six months. Governor Christie’s 5-year transportation plan did not live up to expectations, ultimately extending the state’s transportation debt bill to a whopping $1.2 billion annually through 2041. As the legislature entered lame duck, murmurs of a funding agreement swirled, but a solution never surfaced. At the 11th hour, both the Senate and Assembly passed a resolution (ACR1/SCR190) to have Garden State voters decide whether gas tax revenue should be dedicated solely for transportation purposes. While it is by no means a funding solution, it paves the way for future discussions. Meanwhile, the legislature remains noncommittal to a transportation funding source. The most likely source–the state’s gas tax–continues to receive vocal opposition from State Senators Jennifer Beck and Mike Doherty, as well as Governor Christie.

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