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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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

Bridgeport, CT Mayor Bill Finch | Photo: bridgeportct.gov

Bridgeport, CT Mayor Bill Finch | Photo: bridgeportct.gov

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

WINNERS

Bridgeport, CT Mayor Bill Finch – The mayor unveiled a comprehensive safe streets campaign in the city which include short and long-term infrastructure improvements and increased enforcement.

NYPD 78th Precinct – The Park Slope precinct replaced a parking spot in front of the building’s entrance with a bike corral.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams – After seven years with Tri-State, our Associate Director Ryan Lynch will now serve as Policy Director to Borough President Adams.

New York City Department of City Planning – After three years with Tri-State, our Staff Analyst Kathi Ko will now serve as a planner for the Queens Department of Planning.

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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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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

New York City Councilman Donovan Richards Jr. | Photo: council.nyc.gov

New York City Councilman Donovan Richards Jr. | Photo: council.nyc.gov

WINNERS

Environmental Protection Agency Region 2 - Regional Administrator Judith Enck’s office was the only government office brave enough to stand up to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s attempt to raid Environmental Facilities Corporation water and sewer funding for the new Tappan Zee Bridge construction project.

R Train riders - The Montague Street Tunnel storm recovery project has been completed ahead of schedule and under budget.

New York City Councilman Donovan Richards Jr. – Queens commuters are applauding the stellar service provided by the new Q114 route, and the Councilman has plans to further expand service in the borough.

Metro-North Railroad - The agency launched a pilot program for bike racks on Connecticut’s New Haven line trains, and also received an award from the 2014 BuildSmart NY Awards for its Grand Central terminal energy conservation projects.

New Jersey Transit –While only a partial solution to addressing capacity concerns, the agency will be replacing all current train cars with double decker designs and all buses with a fleet of longer designs with more seats.

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A Full Plate for the PATH Riders Council

path2

The PATH Riders Council‘s first meeting, held in July, was a basic introductory meeting that didn’t touch on any substantive issues. The next meeting is scheduled for tomorrow, and the Council, chaired by (former Tri-State staff member) Ya-Ting Liu, will undoubtedly start getting down to business.

The most pressing issue facing the Council is the need for the Port Authority to meet the current and future challenges of population growth in the PATH ridership area. After explosive growth over the past decade in Hoboken and Jersey City, any PATH rider already knows that rush hour trains are too crowded, and any delay only compounds the problem. This problem, if unaddressed, will only get worse in a future that will see:

Capacity is a glaring near and long-term need for PATH, and the Council should focus its efforts on ensuring that the Port Authority understands that need.

The Riders Council must also address inadequate service levels, especially on the weekends. In recent history, transit ridership has grown dramatically at non-traditional commuting times resulting in a demand for service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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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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Fix-it-First Investment Takes Priority in NJ’s FY 2015 Transportation Capital Program

NJDOT logo colorNew Jersey’s 2015 Transportation Capital Program reveals the state is spending less on unsustainable expansion projects and more on maintenance and preservation. According to Tri-State’s analysis, the FY 2015 Capital Program is dedicating the highest share of funds towards road and bridge maintenance and the lowest percentage of funds to expansion projects in recent memory.

Expansion projects in the 2015 Capital Program comprise only 3 percent of funds and maintenance/preservation projects comprise nearly 32 percent. By comparison, expansion projects made up 10 percent of the 2014 Capital Program funds and maintenance/preservation projects 25 percent; in 2013 expansion projects accounted for about 12 percent of funds and maintenance/preservation projects nearly 30 percent.

In 2015, for every dollar spent on roads or bridges, about 7 cents will go towards expansion while nearly 80 cents will go toward maintaining existing assets. In 2014 and 2013, about 25 cents on every dollar going to road or bridge projects went to expansion, and about 63 cents went to preservation.

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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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Higher Pedestrian Deaths in Poorer Neighborhoods

A recent study by GoverningPedestrian Deaths in Poorer Neighborhoods, compiled locational data on all fatal pedestrian accidents within United States metro areas between 2008 and 2012. The study found that in counties across the tri-state region with more than half a million residentsapproximately 8.5 pedestrians per 100,000 residents died during the study period. Suffolk County, NY had the highest five-year fatality rate: 12.1 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents.

The analysis also looked at pedestrian death rates for income-based census tracts within each county and revealed a significant disparity for fatalities rates between low-income (poverty rate greater than 25 percent) and high-income (poverty rate less than 15 percent) communities. For example, Essex County, NJ had the largest fatality disparity by a ratio of 2.8, which means that within the county, people living in poorer neighborhoods were almost three times more likely to be hit while walking than people in wealthy neighborhoods. The map on the left shows the top five counties with the highest five-year pedestrian death rate, while the map on the right presents the top five counties in the region with the largest disparity in the pedestrian death rate with regard to income.

MAPS

This pattern is not limited to the tri-state region—the study found that poorer neighborhoods recorded disproportionately higher rates of pedestrian deaths across the United States. According to the report, the pedestrian fatality rates within low-income metro area census tracts were approximately twice that of higher-income metro area census tracts. Neighborhoods with more than 25 percent of residents living below the poverty line had a rate of 12.1 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 people from 2008 through 2012, over two times higher than neighborhoods with a poverty rate below the national average of 15 percent and almost double the national average.

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