Gov. Christie Says “Everything Is on the Table,” But NJ’s Transportation Trust Fund Is Still Starving

New Jersey Chris Christie | Photo: AWR Hawkins, Brietbart

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie | Photo: AWR Hawkins, Brietbart

Everything is on the table” is what Governor Christie has repeatedly said about his plan to secure funding for New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) after his current five-year plan failed pretty much right out of the gate. But what exactly has the legislature put on the table so far? Here is a list of the current bills in Trenton:

A1558 (DeCroce): Authorizes development of public-private partnership transportation demonstration projects.
It would permit the New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner to select transportation projects as “demonstration projects” using public-private partnership agreements. Public-private partnerships (P3’s) are generally used to help finance large-scale projects to free up money for other projects.  Pennsylvania is looking to P3’s as part of a larger transportation funding strategy to help reduce the number of its structurally deficient bridges.

A1865 (Lesniak): Increases the motor fuels tax by five cents per year for three years for a total increase of 15 cents.
Currently, the gas tax brings in $520 million to the TTF and the total debt service for FY 2105 was approximately $1.2 billion. This increase would generate approximately $750 million. Citing the NJDOT’s 2013-2022 Statewide Capital Investment Strategy, Assemblyman Rumana recently stated that even an effort to triple the state’s already low gas tax would fall short of the state’s needs.

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Hoboken and Weehawken Seeking Bike Share Input

Help improve bike access and mobility in Hoboken and Weehawken! Where would you like to see a bike share station: near your favorite restaurant, at a movie theater, in the park, in front of your office building?

As the cities prepare to launch the first phase of a 300-bicycle joint bike share program this [...]

Pressure Mounts on New Jersey Legislature to Move Port Authority Public Disclosure Bills

NJLeg 9_22_2014

One man stands in the way of advancing the issue of transparency at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey: Assembly Transportation and Independent Authority Chairman John Wisniewski. And today, the New York Times editorial page joined advocate groups in calling upon the New Jersey legislature to act.

While Chairman Wisniewski’s Committee is set to hold a hearing on 11 bills regarding transparency and accountability at the bi-state agency this coming Monday, including the important Port Authority public disclosure bills, the effort falls disappointingly short. Chairman Wisniewski has listed these bills for “discussion only,” meaning that there will be no vote on the bills regardless of the discussion, and therefore they cannot be released from committee.

Monday’s “discussion only” agenda comes on the heels of this past Wednesday’s PANYNJ Board of Commissioners meeting, during which the commissioners unanimously passed a resolution calling for a proposal which would require PANYNJ, which currently has its own policy regarding public disclosure, to abide by the public-disclosure laws of both New York (FOIL) and New Jersey (OPRA). Chairman John Degnan stated that he anticipates the new policy to be in place by January 2015 absent any progress by the legislatures of both states.

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NJ Transit Ridership Up Across the Board

Hudson-Bergen Light Rail saw twice as many passengers as Newark and four times that of RiverLine. | Photo: New York Post

Hudson-Bergen Light Rail saw twice as many passengers as Newark and four times that of RiverLine. | Photo: New York Post

New Jersey Transit recently opened its committee meetings to the public, allowing riders greater insight into the agency’s operations and performance stats. Ridership data made available at the August Customer Service Committee meeting has revealed some interesting usage trends across NJ Transit’s operations, highlighting customer needs in several areas.

The most encouraging insight gained from the committee’s report is that total June 2014 ridership across all three modes increased by 4.8 percent compared to June 2013, while statewide vehicle miles traveled (VMT) decreased and gas prices continued to soar. Rail ridership was up 7.3 percent, and the HBLR showed tremendous gains with a 6.9 percent increase in May and 7.4 percent in June, compared to 2013.

With statewide transit ridership increasing at such an encouraging rate, the state would be wise to prioritize a sustainable funding source for transportation projects. Thankfully it seems there is growing momentum to help push this issue in the right direction, though with NJ Transit already dependent on borrowing against its own capital funds to cover growing operating costs, a solution to the state’s transportation funding crisis can’t come soon enough.

Ridership stats across NJ Transit’s three transit modes allowed us to identify three specific transportation infrastructure projects that, if prioritized, could significantly improve and expand existing service for NJ Transit customers.

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For Port Authority Transparency, the Ball Is in New Jersey’s Court

port-authority-logoNothing has so clearly highlighted the need for government transparency as the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal and the subsequent political fallout. Though New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, co-chair of the special committee to investigate the PANYNJ, continues to probe for answers, the issue of accountability and transparency seems fated to remain well after the “Bridgegate” scandal is resolved.

That is, unless legislation is passed to mandate that the bi-state agency is subject to both the New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) and New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

The New York State Legislature has already taken this step, and a bill subjecting the Port Authority to New York’s FOIL law is awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

But similar efforts in New Jersey have been slow to get out of the starting gate. While a Senate bill to ensure the Port Authority was accountable to New Jersey’s OPRA law passed the full Senate this past June, its Assembly counterpart has yet to move in the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee.

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New Jersey’s Bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund: Is Action Finally Underway?

The Kingsland Avenue Bridge in Lyndhurst was the backdrop for Senate President Stephen Sweeney's announcement of his TTF funding tour. | Photo: Myles Ma for NJ.com

The Kingsland Avenue Bridge in Lyndhurst was the backdrop for Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s announcement of his TTF funding tour. | Photo: Myles Ma for NJ.com

The New Jersey State Assembly will “spend the coming months hosting hearings on the problems and concerns surrounding our bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) and what it will take to meet our transportation needs,” Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto announced last week via an op-ed in The Record.  But this is not going to be a “feel-good process done for appearances sakes,” said Speaker Prieto. “Nothing about our current state of transportation affairs should make anyone feel good.”

The problems surrounding the bankrupt TTF should be obvious enough to state legislators. Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Senator Paul Sarlo recently announced a tour of the state’s crumbling transportation infrastructure that aims to draw Governor Christie’s attention to the need to resolve the funding crisis—as though the governor might somehow be unaware of that need. The real problem is that the political will required to address the issue is conspicuously lacking, even while the solutions for funding transportation infrastructure seem to be staring the legislature—and the governor—square in the face.
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Premature, or Too Little Too Late? Port Authority Reallocates $90 Million for “Obsolete” Bus Terminal

Port Authority Bus Terminal | Photo: Allix Rogers/Flickr (via WNYC)

Port Authority Bus Terminal | Photo: Allix Rogers/flickr via WNYC

Trans-Hudson bus commuters received some promising news about the outdated Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) Wednesday: the Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution officially reallocating $90 million from its current 10-year Capital Program to a (nonspecific) plan for improvements under the working title “Quality of Commute.” A detailed plan on how the Port Authority will spend that money is slated to be presented at the September 17 Board meeting.

Port Authority Board of Commissioners Vice Chair Scott Rechler called the PABT “obsolete in every way you can imagine” and expressed concern that none of the commissioners had made the PABT a top priority while the most recent 10- year capital program was being developed.

“I was a little dismayed that we spent two years going through this capital plan and getting input from all the commissioners who were taking feedback from the community and it didn’t reach that level, and I’m not exactly sure why,” Rechler said at Wednesday’s meeting.

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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.

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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.

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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 [...]