It appears as if NJDOT will dedicate less funding for road and bridge expansion projects than in previous years. But will this shift in priorities be short-lived?
The New Jersey Department of Transportation’s 2015 draft Transportation Capital Program, which lays out the agency’s planned transportation investments for all roads, bridges and transit in the state, dedicates a lot less funding for road and bridge expansion projects than in previous years. But will this shift in priorities be short-lived?
Two of 2014’s largest expansion projects—the Route 72 Manahawkin Bay Bridge, which received $36 million in the 2014 capital program* and Route 295/42 Direct Connect, which received almost $79 million in the 2014 program—are not in the 2015 proposed document, but will be in future capital programs.
TSTC reached out to NJDOT regarding the Direct Connect project and learned that because the agency funded earlier contracts in their entirety, the next contract is scheduled for 2016. In addition, according to the draft capital program, contracts for the Manahawkin bridge project will resume in 2016 at $22 million, with plans to spend nearly $145 million on the project from 2016-2024.
The silver lining is that the 2015 draft capital program shows what future capital programs could look like if NJDOT were to focus on maintaining existing assets and cut back on large-scale expansion projects. According to TSTC’s analysis**, there are nine road or bridge expansion projects comprising about 3 percent (approximately $54 million) of this year’s proposed capital program funds, as compared to nearly 10 percent ($185 million) of the 2014 program funds.
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State DOTs in Massachusetts and California — which have adopted NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide — happen to be located in highly walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible locations. | Image: WalkScore
As MTR reported earlier this week, Tennessee became the sixth state to formally endorse the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Street Design Guide.
The NACTO Guide is considered “a blueprint for safe, multi-modal streets,” but 44 states (including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) still rely on the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) less progressive design guidelines for urban streets.
That got us thinking: What, if anything do the states that have endorsed the NACTO guide (California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Tennessee, Utah and Washington) have in common?
Back in March of 2013, we used Walk Score to see if there was any correlation between a state transportation department’s priorities and where the people who staff those departments go to work each day.
Tri-State looked to see if — and to what extent — state departments of transportation lead by example. Specifically, how walkable are the locations of state department of transportation (DOT) headquarters, and what does this tell us about that state’s transportation priorities?
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Route 35 in Mantoloking will have bike lanes with a painted buffer (buffer width may vary depending on road width). | Image: Streetmix
There were shoulders — not buffered bike lanes — in NJDOT’s original plan for Route 35 in Mantoloking. | Image: NJDOT
No, it wasn’t an April Fools’ prank. On April 1, the New Jersey Department of Transportation revealed revised plans for the $265 million, 12.5-mile Route 35 Reconstruction Project. The original reconstruction plan for the Hurricane Sandy-damaged Route 35, which was first announced in February 2013, was touted as a complete streets project, but it provided little in the way of bike accommodations other than paved shoulders in some segments of the right of way.
The updated plan includes 10 miles of bike accommodations — mostly dedicated bike lanes, with shared lane markings or “sharrows” in some locations. The change comes after a year of advocacy by Tri-State, along with the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition and Greater Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition, to assure that this project serves as an example for New Jersey and rest of the nation of how complete streets can be implemented.
The project, which extends through eight municipalities, has been divided into three sections:
Mileposts 0-4 (Berkeley, Seaside Park, Seaside Heights and Toms River)
Route 35 North, from the entrance to Island Beach State Park in Berkeley through 6th Avenue in Toms River, will have a continuous bike lane of either four feet or five feet in width for all but 11 blocks. These 11 blocks will include sharrows.
On Route 35 South, from 6th Avenue in Toms River to Grant Avenue in Seaside Heights, bicyclists will have a four-foot dedicated lane, however, between Grant and Lincoln Avenues, cyclists will have shared road infrastructure. From Lincoln Avenue, southbound cyclists would be diverted one block east to Boulevard, which has no bicycle accommodations, and then rejoin Route 35 south of K Street, where there will be a four-foot-wide bike lane all the way until the entrance to Island Beach State Park in Berkeley.
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According to Repair Priorities 2014, most state DOTs “are spending more money building new roads than maintaining the ones they have.” | Image: Smart Growth America
With people driving less and federal largesse not what it used to be, it would make sense for state departments of transportation to shift away from building [...]
As state departments of transportation try to reduce the stubborn problem of pedestrian and cyclist deaths, one tactic they can use is to help local communities adopt complete street policies. In the tri-state region, few are doing as good a job on that front as the New Jersey Department of Transportation. On its complete streets website, NJDOT has published guides not just for how to develop complete streets policies, but also how to come up with a plan to implement them.
Included in both guides is a version of the checklist NJDOT itself uses when it’s developing a project. NJDOT requires that the project manager and designer fill out the checklist “during the earliest stages of the Concept Development or Preliminary Engineering Phase so that any pedestrian or bicycle considerations are included in the project budget.” Among other things, the checklist reminds staff to
- examine existing pedestrian, bicycle and transit infrastructure
- measure existing levels of non-motorized travel and identify missing infrastructure
- coordinate with the local transit agency
- and ensure that projects abide by pedestrian and bicycle design standards.
Two of the 12 items which make up NJDOT’s complete streets preliminary engineering checklist.
The value of New Jersey’s complete streets guides goes beyond the checklist, however. The guides also offer advice for local leaders on how to support complete streets beyond just adopting policies. For example, the implementation guide suggests a list of typical plans that may need to be updated after a complete streets policy is passed (master plan, circulation, land use, etc.). It also has examples of how the development review process can support complete streets, and “lessons learned” from towns and cities that have done the work already.
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A recent Star-Ledger editorial discussed the issue of pothole maintenance as a seasonal issue that’s unrelated to New Jersey’s larger transportation issues:
The four-wheeled obstacle course is a New Jersey tradition. Who hasn’t felt his skeleton rattle after driving across a car-eating crater disguised as an ordinary puddle?
True, New Jersey’s transportation infrastructure is troubled. But potholes are seasonal, not symptoms of a larger problem. Anywhere wintertime temperatures drop below freezing, potholes pockmark the landscape.
At last year’s budget hearing, New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson stated in his testimony that 41 percent of the state’s highway pavement is already in unacceptable condition. As a result, New Jersey motorists spend, on average, $601 per year in additional vehicle maintenance costs. In other words, because New Jersey can’t keep up with the cost of maintaining roads, motorists end up spending hundreds on “flat tires, bent wheels, wheel alignments and axle damage.”
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Even without a catastrophe like Super Storm Sandy, there were still plenty of major transportation stories in New Jersey last year. 2013 was a banner year for pedestrian and bicyclist safety in the Garden State: NJDOT was recognized at Tri-State’s 20th Anniversary Benefit for its commitment to Complete Streets, the number of municipalities with Complete Streets policies continues to grow, bike share is taking hold in a handful of communities, and a number of legislators stepped up to the plate to introduce a package of pedestrian and bicycling safety bills.
But for just about every step forward, there has been another step back. One community trashed three years of planning on a network of cycling routes, and the jury is still out on whether NJDOT will translate good policy into good Complete Streets projects when re-building roads damaged by Sandy and in other projects throughout the state.
But by far the biggest fail for New Jersey 2013 was the fact that no progress has been made (or was even attempted) to address the state’s looming transportation financing crisis.
Complete Streets spread across the state — Continuing on the momentum of 2012, there were nineteen new Complete Streets policies adopted in New Jersey municipalities in 2013.
State leaders introduce pedestrian and bicyclist safety bills — State Senator Diane Allen, along with Assemblymembers Herb Conaway, Timothy Eustace, Celeste Riley, Scott Rudder, Troy Singleton, Grace Spencer and Connie Wagner, sponsored six separate pieces of legislation in 2013 that could help make New Jersey safer for walking and biking.
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