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…

NJ Turnpike Widening Costing Taxpayers More Money

The NJ Turnpike Authority will sink deeper into debt in order to continue to widen the roadway. | Photo: New Jersey Turnpike Authority

Citing a shortage of cash, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority is reportedly planning to borrow up to $1.4 billion this year to fund the widening of the Turnpike between Interchanges 6 and […]

NJ Starting Second Phase of Parkway Widening

Trees have been cleared along on the Garden State Parkway between miles 30 and 64.5. NJTA spokespersons say the clearing is advance work for the planned Parkway widening, even though the portion of the project south of mile 48 is unfunded. (Pictured here is a section between miles 31 and 33.)

Last month, […]

Turnpike Authority Holding Hearings on Ending Off-Peak Toll Discounts

The NJTA may end off-peak discounts on the Turnpike for drivers whose EZ-Pass accounts are registered outside of New Jersey, worsening traffic at rush hours.

In March, the NJ Turnpike Authority announced it would seek to end off-peak toll discounts on the NJ Turnpike for drivers whose E-ZPass accounts are outside the state’s […]

NJ Turnpike Authority Chopping Toll Discounts, Trees

The NJTA may end off-peak discounts on the Turnpike for drivers whose EZ-Pass accounts are registered outside of New Jersey, worsening traffic at rush hours.

The NJ Turnpike Authority is in a bit of a cash crunch, unable to fund all of its plans to widen the Turnpike and Garden State Parkway. That […]

2010 NJ Year in Review: Policy Takes a Leap Backwards

2010 proved to be a disastrous year for New Jersey transportation, with the state’s most pressing transportation challenge going unaddressed and with great leaps backward in policy. New Governor Chris Christie entered the year well aware that the state’s transportation system needed a long-term funding solution. The Transportation Trust Fund (which gets most of its revenue from the state gas tax and represents the state’s contribution to the NJDOT and NJ Transit capital programs) had been borrowed against for too long and would go bankrupt by July 2011.

NJ Transit riders packed a public hearing on planned fare hikes and service cuts in Newark in March.

Gov. Christie didn’t address the issue during 2010. But the tough budget environment hit transit riders in other ways, leading to major fare hikes and service cuts and the cancellation of the Access to the Region’s Core project, a rail tunnel between NYC and New Jersey that was necessary to increase service on the state rail system.

A Tough Year for Transit Riders

To say it was a tough year for transit riders in New Jersey would be an understatement. The new governor opened the year by cutting state support for NJ Transit by 11%. A proposal for a 25% fare increase and huge service cuts soon followed. Thousands of riders protested at public hearings and sent messages to state politicians, and NJ Transit eventually lowered the fare hike for local bus and light rail riders to 10% while keeping the 25% hike for commuter trains and buses.  But the increase was still the largest in a generation.

In May, NJDOT Commissioner Jim Simpson revealed that the Christie administration had backed away from a financial commitment to a planned bus rapid transit and PATCO rail extension project in South Jersey.

But this was just a sneak preview of one of the largest stories of the year — the cancellation of the ARC Tunnel. As recently as April, the governor was calling the ARC Tunnel “critical for the transit riders of New Jersey” and standing squarely behind the project, which represented the culmination of 20 years of planning and was the largest transit project in the nation. But in September he suspended new work on the project for 30 days, supposedly to review project costs.

Many observers, however, had an alternate theory: that killing the tunnel could be a means to shore up the Transportation Trust Fund. NJ Transit Executive Director Jim Weinstein admitted as such, telling state legislators that cancelling the project could be a way to do so. The governor was urged to reconsider this short-sighted decision by broad swathes of the state’s civic, labor, business, and environmental communities, and Christie delayed making a decision as thousands of New Jerseyans came out to support the project. USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood flew down and set up last-minute federal-state discussions to try and salvage the project. But after delaying a decision again, Gov. Christie rejected several offered financing options.

On October 27, the governor made the decision official, effectively precluding any major improvements to the rail network for at least the next 20 years. Doing so also put the state on the hook to repay $271 million in federal funds that had been spent on the project. The federal government has since reduced that amount, and the state has hired a D.C. law firm to try and lower the bill further.

Toll Road Widenings Advance

Even as major transit projects languished, the Christie administration borrowed billions of dollars to advance major road widening projects.  Both the Garden State Parkway widening (between mileposts 63 and 80) and NJ Turnpike widening (6-8A), which the Corzine administration broke ground on, advanced further under Gov. Christie.

» Continue reading…

For Christie, Fiscal Responsibility Only Applies to Transit Projects

Last year, then-Gov. Jon Corzine broke ground on the widening of the NJ Turnpike, a project whose cost has increased over the years.

Yesterday, Governor Christie reiterated that his decision to kill the Access to the Region’s Core tunnel was about lack of funding, telling outlets across the state that the decision “was […]

Fiscal Responsibility? NJ Will Borrow $2 Billion for Toll Roads as Rail Tunnel Stalls

Even as NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s administration debates canceling the Access to the Region’s Core rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York — supposedly for reasons of fiscal responsibility — state officials are borrowing another $2 billion to pay for widening NJ’s toll roads. The cost of the planned widenings of the NJ […]

NJ Turnpike: Missing the Money for the Trees

Robbinsville officials blocked access to a Turnpike construction site in protest of the state's broken reforestation promise.

The NJ municipalities of East Windsor, Hamilton and Robbinsville have filed suit against the State of New Jersey for the return of funds that were supposed to be used to replace trees destroyed by NJ Turnpike […]