A New Port Authority Bus Terminal May Be Closer Than We Thought

Riders waiting to board buses at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. | Photo: The Record

Riders waiting to board buses at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. | Photo: The Record

Back in February, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) officials said it was “premature” to put any spending for the Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) in the capital program, and that nothing would be done regarding building a new bus garage until a $5.5 million study was complete.

But it seems like the Authority is revisiting this stance given new financial optimism and pressure from advocates and elected officials.

A few weeks ago, PANYNJ Commissioners Ken Lipper and Jeffrey Lynford of New York and David Steiner of New Jersey indicated that due to “several recent positive financial developments for the agency,” a new terminal “could and should be added” to the 10-year, $27.6 billion capital plan adopted in February. This news comes in response to New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg’s testimony last month during the monthly meeting of the Port Authority Board of Directors.

The growing number of public complaints from New Jersey Transit commuters who use the PABT caught the attention of Assemblymembers Gordon Johnson and Senator Loretta Weinberg, who held a hearing on June 11 in Teaneck specifically to discuss concerns regarding the PABT. “We wanted to make sure in a most public way that NJ Transit and PANYNJ are well aware of the problems,” Weinberg said. “We’ve been hearing from our constituents,” who Weinberg says often must stand for more than an hour at a gate waiting to board a bus.

» Continue reading…

Veto Threat Stops New Jersey Democrats from Pursuing Gas Tax Increase, but Not Other Tax Increases

Governor Christie has promised to veto any tax increase, which has evidently been enough to prevent Democrats from even trying to raise the gas tax.

New Jersey Democrats tried and failed to pass a “millionaires tax” despite Governor Chris Christie’s promise to veto any tax increases. So why hasn’t there been a serious attempt to raise the gas tax?

New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee Chair John Wisniewski, a proponent of raising the state’s gas tax, stated earlier this year that “until the governor shows a willingness to tackle the [transportation funding] problem it would be quixotic for Democrats to propose a tax that would face not only the governor’s veto, but his wrath as well.”

It’s a rational argument — why try when failure is certain? But the threat of the governor’s veto hasn’t stopped New Jersey Democrats from trying to advance other tax increases.

Governor Chris Christie has been very vocal about his determination to veto any tax increase that is sent to him, so it came as no surprise when he vetoed a tax increase on millionaires before signing the $32.5 billion state budget this week. What’s surprising is that legislators sent them to the governor anyway. In fact, Democrats in the legislature have tried on several occasions to pass a “millionaires tax” despite Christie’s inevitable veto.

So why have legislators stayed away from seeking a much-needed gas tax increase? It’s not as if legislators don’t realize the state has a transportation funding crisis.

» Continue reading…

NJ Transit Chief: “No Service Cuts Or Fare Increases”

NJ Transit’s new Executive Director Ronnie Hakim has gotten off on the right foot by protecting bus and train riders from service cuts and fare hikes. In response to a Tri-State inquiry concerning the proposed $15 million cut to NJ Transit’s operating budget included in Governor Christie’s budget, Executive Director Hakim assured advocates that there [...]

Insult to Injury: Governor Christie’s Cuts Would Reduce Subsidy for Already-Underfunded NJ Transit

NJ Transit says there won't be any fare increases if Governor Christie's subsidy cut is approved. What riders don't know is if there will be any service cuts. | Photo: AP

NJ Transit says there won’t be any fare increases if the subsidy cut is approved. What riders don’t know is if there will be any service cuts. | Photo: AP

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced several budget cuts Wednesday aimed at plugging the Garden State’s $807 million budget deficit. Among the cuts was a $14.8 million cut to the subsidy the state provides to New Jersey Transit.

This $14.8 million represents just under 1 percent of NJT’s $1.9 billion operating budget, but it’s an operating budget that’s already substantially underfunded. Over the past three years, $1.16 billion ($363 million in FY2012, $397 million in FY2013 and $397 million in FY2014) has been transferred from NJT’s capital fund to meet the agency’s operating needs. That’s nothing to sneeze at: $1.16 billion is enough to fund the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail extension, replace the Portal Bridge or make a serious dent in the cost to build the Camden-Glassboro Light Rail project.

» Continue reading…

With No Public Input or Environmental Study NJDOT Widens Newark Bay-Hudson County Extension Permanently

New Jersey has once again literally paved the way for another lesson in legal terminology. Sua sponte, which means “of one’s own accord,” seems to accurately describe New Jersey Transportation Commissioner James Simpson’s decision to permanently widen the Newark Bay-Hudson County Extension. The NBHCE’s eastbound shoulder, which was originally intended to be a temporary part-time travel [...]

Whither the Discussion on New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund Debt?

nj-gas-tax-shrinkingThe legal term, Res ipsa loquitur, or “the thing speaks for itself,” posits that “one is presumed to be negligent if he/she/it had exclusive control of whatever caused the injury even though there is no specific evidence of an act of negligence, and without negligence the accident would not have happened.”

Under this legal doctrine, one could conclude that Governor Christie has been negligent in regard to New Jersey’s current transportation funding crisis.

New Jersey’s transportation funding strategy has been reliant on debt for some time, but the problem has become especially dire under the current administration. In 1984, Governor Tom Kean created the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) with the intent to not only create a “stable and predictable” funding source for transportation projects, but also to keep that funding sheltered from the annual budget process. Under Governor Kean, 77 percent of transportation funding came from pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) financing, but when Governor Jim Florio took office in 1991, that percentage took a nosedive. This trend continued with each subsequent administration, and debt has become the primary source of funding transportation in New Jersey ever since. Today, under Governor Christie, PAYGO accounts for less than 3 percent of transportation financing.

It’s no wonder the state’s current five-year capital plan will run out of funding a year early. At a recent budget hearing in Trenton, NJDOT Commissioner James Simpson put the 2016 funding gap at $620 million with no funding source identified. A report issued by the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services warned that “if the size of the transportation capital program does not increase after 2016, it is possible that recent improvements that have been realized in the condition of the state of transportation infrastructure will be reversed.”

This pressure is further exacerbated by the $692 million funding gap expected in 2017 after the expiration of temporary Turnpike Authority and PANYNJ contributions.

But it doesn’t stop there. » Continue reading…

New Jersey Lagging in Bike-Friendly State Rankings

New Jersey has dropped from 7th 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.

BFS-2014

The League measures bicycle friendliness by awarding  up to 100 points based on a number of key indicators, including infrastructure and funding that provide on-the-ground bicycle facilities; education and encouragement of programs that promote cycling; and passage and enforcement of laws that make it safe and comfortable for people of all ages to ride. New Jersey’s bicycle friendliness remained stagnant between this year and last, showing less than a half-point difference in total points from 2013 to 2014. But with other states’ point totals on the rise, New Jersey’s inaction caused its ranking to fall five slots.

In the 2014 Report Card for New Jersey, the League identified the lack of a safe passing law and a vulnerable user law as the state’s key shortcomings. Although New Jersey continues to be a national leader in passing Complete Streets policies at the municipal and county levels, it has yet to enact legislation that will better enforce reckless driving to protect pedestrians and bicyclists on the roadway.

The good news is that New Jersey legislators have already introduced bills this year focused on improving safety for pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable users:

  • S231/A958 a vulnerable user bill, which increases penalties for motor vehicle violations resulting in serious bodily injury or death to pedestrians, cyclists, or highway workers
  • A1591 which would increase penalties for careless driving when a violation results in injury or death to a pedestrian.
  • A1600 which requires drivers to move over or slow down when approaching a bicyclist or pedestrian.

» Continue reading…

How Will Bicyclists and Pedestrians Be Accommodated on a Rebuilt NJ Route 35? Let Us Count the Ways

nj-35-after

Route 35 in Mantoloking will have bike lanes with a painted buffer (buffer width may vary depending on road width). | Image: Streetmix

nj-35-before

There were shoulders — not buffered bike lanes — in NJDOT’s original plan for Route 35 in Mantoloking. | Image: NJDOT

No, it wasn’t an April Fools’ prank. On April 1, the New Jersey Department of Transportation revealed revised plans for the $265 million, 12.5-mile Route 35 Reconstruction Project. The original reconstruction plan for the Hurricane Sandy-damaged Route 35, which was first announced in February 2013, was touted as a complete streets project, but it provided little in the way of bike accommodations other than paved shoulders in some segments of the right of way.

The updated plan includes 10 miles of bike accommodations — mostly dedicated bike lanes, with shared lane markings or “sharrows” in some locations. The change comes after a year of advocacy by Tri-State, along with the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and Greater Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition, to assure that this project serves as an example for New Jersey and rest of the nation of how complete streets can be implemented.

The project, which extends through eight municipalities, has been divided into three sections:

Mileposts 0-4 (Berkeley, Seaside Park, Seaside Heights and Toms River)

Route 35 North, from the entrance to Island Beach State Park in Berkeley through 6th Avenue in Toms River, will have a continuous bike lane of either four feet or five feet in width for all but 11 blocks. These 11 blocks will include sharrows.

On Route 35 South, from 6th Avenue in Toms River to Grant Avenue in Seaside Heights, bicyclists will have a four-foot dedicated lane, however, between Grant and Lincoln Avenues, cyclists will have shared road infrastructure. From Lincoln Avenue, southbound cyclists would be diverted one block east to Boulevard, which has no bicycle accommodations, and then rejoin Route 35 south of K Street, where there will be a four-foot-wide bike lane all the way until the entrance to Island Beach State Park in Berkeley.

» Continue reading…

An Increased Gas Tax Will Help NJ Drivers Save Money

gas-pump-NJ

The more NJ drivers know about the state’s gas tax, the more likely they are to support a gas tax increase. | Photo: Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger

Rutgers University’s Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling recently released the results of a poll regarding public support for an increase in New Jersey’s gas tax. The results are hardly shocking: nearly two-thirds of adult voters in New Jersey oppose any hike, while roughly one third supports paying more. It’s not surprising that people are reluctant to pay more for something willingly.

But what was surprising was that once people learned New Jersey’s most recent gas tax increase was 26 years ago, and that at 14.5 cents per gallon it’s the third-lowest gas tax in the nation, they were more likely to favor higher gas taxes. In other words, the more people know about New Jersey’s gas tax, the more they are inclined to support an increase.

This made us wonder if and how respondents’ answers might change if they knew even more about the desperate state of transportation funding in New Jersey. Currently, 100 percent of the dedicated revenue generated by the gas tax is going toward paying off debt, and not toward funding transportation projects. Over 11 million motorists drive over a structurally deficient bridge in New Jersey every day, and more than 40 percent of NJDOT pavement was not in acceptable condition as of last year. (Given the beating roads have taken this year, that number may have grown.)

» Continue reading…

New Jersey Remains a Complete Streets Leader, while New York and Connecticut Slowly Make Progress

best-complete-streets-2013Smart Growth America released its Best Complete Streets Policies of 2013 report last month. The report ranks each Complete Streets policy enacted in 2013 using a system that measures ten ideal elements of a Complete Streets policy and scores each policy based on those ideals.

While there weren’t any policies from the tri-state region in this year’s top 10 (Trenton was #8 in 2012), both New York and New Jersey have achievements worth mentioning. New Jersey saw the greatest addition of policies in 2013 with 17 new Complete Streets policies adopted (California was #2 with 14 new policies), and the Garden State is ranked #2 nationwide with 78 policies (behind only Michigan, which has 79). The New Jersey Department of Transportaion also had the highest-ranked state internal policy in the nation.

In addition, several Complete Streets policies in New Jersey and New York scored above the median score of 60 (out of 100):

New Jersey

  • Lawrence  (79.2)
  • Trenton*  (78.4)
  • Linden*  (74.4)
  • Camden*  (74.4)
  • Metuchen  (72.8)
  • Chatham  (70.4)
  • Woodbridge  (63.2)
  • Cranford*  (60)
  • Netcong  (60)

New York

Part of the reason New Jersey is so well represented in the rankings is because of NJDOT’s promotion of Complete Streets adoption and implementation. NJDOT provides an incentive point on Municipal Aid grant applications to those municipalities that have passed Complete Streets policies. The department also offers a Complete Streets guide to policy development and an implementation guidebook.

» Continue reading…