“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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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

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

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. | Photo: bronxboropres.nyc.gov

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. | Photo: bronxboropres.nyc.gov

WINNERS

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. — During his State of the Borough speech, Diaz called on the state to stop dragging its feet and redevelop the Sheridan Expressway.

Hicksville commuters — Governor Cuomo has announced a $120 million improvement project for the Hicksville LIRR stationthe busiest station on Long Island.

Fair Haven, NJ Mayor Benjamin Lucarelli — The bike-friendly mayor is taking his campaign for streets safety to Washington to participate in the USDOT’s Mayors’ Challenge.

Ossining Village Board of Trustees  Ossining has adopted a Complete Streets policy which will take effect immediately.

New Rochelle, NY — The City Council has approved two development projects near the town’s Metro-North station, which will include affordable housing.

Metro-North riders — By mid-April, all Metro-North conductors will carry credit card machines.

Statewide transit riders — On Thursday, state and local electeds came together at separate events in Buffalo and in Yonkers for a unified call to action: the State must prioritize funding for statewide transit systems.

New York City road users — WNYC analysis of NYC’s speed camera program has found that the program is improving safety, as both tickets and crashes have decreased in areas with cameras.

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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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New Jersey 2014: Looking Back on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

NJ Year In ReviewTransportation was quite possibly the hottest topic in New Jersey in 2014, seeing major highs, major lows and everything in between. Momentum for improving bicycle and pedestrian safety continued with the passage of new Complete Streets policies, bike accommodations along the rebuild of Route 35 in Ocean County, and new support for the Circuit trail network. Legislative leadership finally started realistic conversations about addressing the transportation funding crisis.

But for just about every step forward, there was another step back. Before the paint was even dry, Newark suspended enforcement of newly-installed protected bike lanes, critical safety legislation appears to be indefinitely stalled in the Senate, and the red light camera pilot program ended. Port Authority reform in particular turned out to be a robust source of lows, including blocked transparency efforts and misguided capital programming priorities.

But by far the biggest fail for New Jersey in 2014 was the fact that the state’s looming transportation financing crisis remains unresolved with less than six months left until the Transportation Trust Fund runs dry.

The Good

“Everything is on the table.” — The grave state of the Transportation Trust Fund generated a deluge of attention towards restoring solvency to the TTF.  A total of five special hearings were held by the Senate and Assembly Transportation Committees on the state of transportation funding, resulting in a number of solutions “on the table.” Transportation leadership in New Jersey— including NJDOT Commissioner FoxSpeaker PrietoAssemblyman Wisniewski and Senator Lesniakwas boldly vocal about the need for an increase in the state gas tax, which has not been increased since 1988 and is the second lowest in the country.

Complete Streets progress continues — The Garden State continues to lead the tri-state region with 14 new Complete Street policies added in 2014 as of October, bringing the total number of policies to seven counties and 111 municipalities.

Bicycle network grows — The Circuit received $8.6 million in funding to support the continuation of the 750-mile regional trail network, 300 miles of which are now open for use with 50 more underway. Once complete, more than half of the Camden-South Jersey-Great Philadelphia region’s population will live within a mile of the Circuit. Also in 2014, Tri-State, along with NJ Bike & Walk Coalition and Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, launched an all-out campaign to ensure that the 12.5-mile,eight-municipality rebuild of Route 35 in Ocean County served as national model for implementation of Complete Streets. On April 1, the New Jersey Department of Transportation revealed revised plans which now include ten miles of bike infrastructure.

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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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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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Port Authority Bus Terminal “Commuter Chat” Event Tomorrow

Last Friday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey “announced” via social media that it would be holding a “Commuter Chat” session for feedback about the Port Authority Bus Terminal on August 12.  Tomorrow’s session is part of the recently-announced “Quality of Commute” Improvement Program for the failing bus terminal, which according to the […]

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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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

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

New Amtrak baggage cars feature roll-on bike storage. | Photo: blog.amtrak.com

New Amtrak baggage cars feature roll-on bike storage. | Photo: blog.amtrak.com

WINNERS

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo – This morning Governor Cuomo signed into law a piece of legislation that authorizes the expansion of speed camera use on Long Island, saying that “By empowering Nassau and Suffolk Counties to install dozens of speed cameras in school zones, we are helping to protect our students and ultimately save lives. This should send a message to all drivers – slow down and obey the speed limit, especially when passing by a school.”

Hopewell Township, NJ – The township became the 100th municipality in the Garden State to embrace Complete Streets and the first municipality to do so by way of a Complete Streets ordinance. According to the Township Administrator/Engineer Paul Pogorzelski, “we decided that this policy should be in the form of an ordinance and have the weight of law rather than simply be part of a resolution which does not transcend governing body changes. “

Amtrak – Amtrak announced that they have begun testing new bike-friendly baggage cars to alleviate passengers of the hassle of boxing and checking their bikes as luggage. These baggage cars, which are manufactured in New York state, are expected to be put into service on all 15 long-distance routes by the end of this year.

New Jersey Transit – The agency has unofficially launched its first-ever one seat ride summer shore rail service from Penn Station to Bay Head using new energy-efficient dual-powered locomotives. Riders will save 25 minutes by not having to change trains at Long Branch, which will likely boost ridership to the shore and alleviate summer parking in shore towns. » Continue reading…