“Not a Crisis,” You Say?

Photo: Mel Evans/AP

Source: Mel Evans/AP

Anyone trying to make sense of all of the bad news for New Jersey transportation this weekthe lack of transportation talk in Governor Christie’s FY2016 budget address, the 8.4 percent cut to the transportation budget, more debt to fund transportation, the threat of the first NJ Transit fare hike in yearsnow has their answer.

Last night, Governor Christie said of the soon-to-be-insolvent Transportation Trust Fund, “I’m hopeful that the Senate president and the [state Assembly] Speaker and I will be able to come to a resolution sooner rather than later, but, you know, again, it’s not a crisis at the moment, because we’re funded pretty well now.”

Let’s be honest here. This is a legitimate crisis; New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund is set to run completely dry on July 1, 2015, which has disastrous implications for the state, given that:

  • one in three New Jersey bridges is structurally deficient or functionally obsolete
  • the poor condition of New Jersey roads costs drivers nearly $2,000 a year
  • New Jersey’s rate of pedestrian injuries and fatalities is more than double the national average
  • expansion of mass transit is at a standstill due to lack of funding

And yet, Governor Christie’s now proposing to cut the transportation budget by 8.4 percentabout $119 million less funding than the current fiscal year. Given the state’s needs, if anything, the budget ought to be increased.

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Register Now for NJ Future’s Redevelopment Forum

New Jersey Future‘s annual Redevelopment Forum is approaching fast! Register now to take advantage of the early-bird rate (which ends this Friday, February 20).

The Redevelopment Forum takes place on March 13 at the New Brunswick Hyatt Hotel and Conference Center, and will feature keynotes from Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Congress for the New Urbanism President Lynn […]

Report Notes New Jersey’s Road Troubles, but Misses the Mark on How to Solve Them

Poor roads lead to not just higher vehicle maintenance costs, but also  | Photo: Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger

New Jersey’s poor roads lead to not just higher vehicle maintenance costs, but also traffic crashes and congestion. | Photo: Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger

New Jersey residents just got slammed with more bad news this month. The Washington D.C. based, industry-funded transportation research organization TRIP released a report which found that the poor condition of New Jersey’s roads and bridges cost Garden State drivers a whopping $1,951 a year.

This figure is considerably higher than the $605 reported last year by the American Society of Civil Engineers because TRIP takes into consideration congestion-related delay ($861 worth of lost time and wasted fuel) and traffic crashes ($485 in lost household and workplace productivity, insurance costs and other financial costs), not just additional vehicle operating costs (such as accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repairs, and increased fuel consumption and tire wear).

The report astutely notes that New Jersey’s increase in population, vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) and economic growth over the past 22 years has placed an increased demand on the state’s road network. TRIP’s recommendations for future improvements, however, miss the mark.

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Will New Jersey Continue Misdirecting What Little Transportation Funding It Has?

Structurally-deficient bridges in New Jersey | Source: NJ Spotlight

Structurally-deficient bridges in New Jersey | Source: NJ Spotlight

Three emergency bridge closures in the past month have renewed the focus on New Jersey’s transportation debt and misdirected transportation spending priorities.

Each year, Tri-State Transportation Campaign reviews and analyzes the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Capital Program. The most alarming trend: funding for road expansion projects has increased year after year, while funding for keeping roads and bridges in a state-of-good-repair has not. These fix-it-first projects comprised just 32 percent of the FY2015 Capital Program, a greater percentage than in the previous two years, but still a steep fall from 44 percent in 2012.

In 2008, Tri-State released a report which predicted there would be an upswing in spending on road expansion:

“Spending on capacity expansion projects is projected to increase in coming years, threatening to undermine the state’s “fix-it-first” goals. While FY2009 funding for expansion projects remains a sliver of the total capital program at just 1.5 percent, by 2011 the share of total funding slated for widening and new roads is projected to grow to nearly 8 percent.”

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New Amtrak Site Aims to Make the Case for Gateway Project

NEC Tunnel TrafficAmtrak launched a new website last week designed to increase awareness about the importance of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) to this region and its capital needs.

The new NEC website includes informationupdates, maps and infographics, and other resources about several NEC infrastructure projects both under construction and in the planning stage, including the 104 year-old Portal Bridgea key component of the Gateway projectwhich carries 450 trains daily and has been blamed for more than 250 delays in the last two years.

Hands down, the NEC is the region’s economic vitality linchpin, with 750,000 daily trips supporting a $2.6 trillion economy. Here in the tri-state region, the NEC and public transportation go hand in hand in supporting New Jersey’s economy, linking the Garden State to the economic powerhouse of New York City:

  • As of the 2010 American Community Survey, more than 11 percent of all New Jersey commuters used public transit, with Hudson, Essex and Bergen Countiesthe counties closest to New York Cityhaving the highest percentages of commuters using transit;
  • As of the 2000 Census, one in every 15 employed New Jersey residents works in Manhattan, and more than 70 percent of them commute by public transit;
  • NJ Transit ridership continues to grow, with an increase in total ridership between 2013 and 2014 of more than 950,000 riders;
  • Mass transit provides access to higher paying jobs in Manhattan, where average wages were 2.5 times the national average in the first quarter of 2014 and were 60 percent higher than in New Jersey in 2009.

Some have predicted rail ridership will double by 2030, and the Northeast Corridor’s most critical need is additional cross-Hudson rail capacity. Since Governor Christie cancelled the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project in 2010, the burden to address that need falls on the shoulders of Amtrak. The Gateway Program could potentially satisfy the burden with support from mutiple funding partners, but with the exception of funds for the “tunnel box” under Hudson Yards, the project is still lacking much-needed fundingat least $15 billion is still needed, in addition to “cooperation from local, state and federal agencies controlled by politicians with competing interests.”

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The True Cost of Cutting Overnight PATH Service

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop speaks at Tuesday's press conference. | Photo: nj.com

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop speaks at Tuesday’s press conference. | Photo: nj.com

Earlier this week, more than a dozen federal, state and local elected officials and labor advocates gathered at Grove Street PATH station for a press conference to call on the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey to rescind a recent proposal to eliminate overnight PATH service. Rallied together by Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, those joining in the call included U.S. Senator Robert Menendez and Representative Albio Sires, North Bergen Mayor and State Senator Nicholas Sacco, Union City Mayor and State Senator Brian Stack, State Senator Sandra Cunningham, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.

The Port Authority quietly released a report between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays which included a “last resort” proposal to eliminate overnight service on PATH. The report states:

Eliminating overnight service during weekends (i.e., eliminating service on Friday night/early Saturday and Saturday night/early Sunday) would produce operational and capital expense savings. …PATH could achieve operational and capital savings estimated to be at least $10 million per year from stopping service altogether between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. on weeknights.

The impact of a service reduction would be limited. Assuming that some riders slightly alter their travel plans to ride the last train before operations cease or the first train after they recommence, approximately one-half of one percent of PATH riders during the time period (just under 1,500) would be affected.

That’s a pretty big assumption on their part, given that the Port Authority’s definition of “slightly alter” may not match up with that of the wide array of riders who rely on the late-night PATH service, which fills the sizable gap in bus and NJ Transit service for the early morning trips to and from Manhattan. For Hoboken residents, the last train home from Manhattan leaves at midnight on weeknights and the first train to the city on weekday mornings isn’t until 6am, leaving all third shift employees, musicians, performers and early morning Wall Street workers to rely on PATH. According to Mayor Fulop, roughly 390,000 riders would be impacted annually by the loss of service from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. on weeknights and possibly hundreds of thousands more if weekend overnight service were also eliminated. For perspective’s sake, in all of Hudson County, more than a third of all households do not own a vehicle.

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Successful Traffic Safety Camera Programs Tie Revenue to Traffic Safety Funds

New Jersey’s red light camera pilot program has officially come to a close as cameras went dark at midnight this past Tuesday after a long battle in Trenton. 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. Nonetheless, efforts are underway […]

Newark’s Bike Safety Efforts

#gallery-1 { margin: auto; } #gallery-1 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 25%; } #gallery-1 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-1 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */ Newark PO Benito Torres helps students with drill (stopping, hand signaling, entering traffic) Meeta Patel from […]

New Jersey Groups Call for Permanent Fix to State Transportation Problems

The Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee will hold its fourth and final special hearing regarding the state’s Transportation Trust Fund on Thursday morning as part of the 99th Annual New Jersey State League of Municipalities Conference, now underway in Atlantic City.

Navigating the transportation funding debate is complicated. While the public debate has focused primarily on increasing taxes and creating additional revenue streams, this is only part of the discussion. Clear and concise answers to some of the most complex questions regarding bonding, debt, current and future transportation projects are essential to an informed conversation by all stakeholders from the bus rider to the state’s transportation commissioner.

With skepticism and frustration regarding the condition of the state’s transportation assets and systems, a clear explanation of the accounting behind the soon-to-be bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund is required.

For these reasons, Tri-State, along with New Jersey FutureRegional Plan Association (RPA), New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) New Jersey State Joint Council today released a list of questions to guide a transparent and informed discussion about transportation funding between state lawmakers and the public:

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Can We Try to Solve New Jersey’s Transportation Funding Crisis Now?

Assemblyman John Wisniewski proposed

Assemblyman John Wisniewski proposed a bill which would increase New Jersey’s gas tax by at least 25 cents. | Photo: Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger

The election is over, so the time to buckle down and focus on solving New Jersey’s transportation funding crisis has arrived.

The problem is abundantly clear: Governor Christie’s five-year transportation capital plan failed, and will run dry a year early, which will leave a huge void if a solution is not in place by July 1, 2015, the beginning of fiscal year 2016.

Earlier this fall, to get a dialog going between advocates, legislators and interest groups on how to resolve the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) crisis, the Assembly Transportation Committee held three special hearings in Montclair, Piscataway and Camden. A fourth and final hearing will be held next week in Atlantic City during the annual NJ League of Municipalities Convention.

There are a number of items “on the table” aimed at restoring the solvency of the TTF. The most recent addition to the menu of items is bill A3886, proposed for introduction by Assemblyman John Wisniewski. A3886 would increase the gas tax by at least 25 cents, adding $1.25 billion to the $535 million generated annually by the current 14.5 cents per gallon gas tax. This is a step in the right direction and will at least help cover the roughly $1.1 billion in annual debt payments projected out to 2041.

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