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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New Report Finds Older Tri-State Pedestrians at Risk

The pedestrian fatality rate for tri-state area residents 60 and older is 2.5 times higher than that of residents under 60. | credit

The fatality rate for pedestrians 60 and older in the tri-state region is 2.5 times higher than that of residents under 60. | photo credit

Tri-state region pedestrians aged 60 years and older are disproportionately at risk of being killed in collisions with vehicles while walking, according to a new study by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

From 2003 through 2012, 1,492 pedestrians aged 60 years and older were killed on Connecticut, New Jersey and downstate New York roads, according to Older Pedestrians at Risk: A Ten Year Survey and Look Aheadreleased today. The report found that:

  • Those 60 and older comprised only 18 percent of the region’s population, but accounted for 35 percent of pedestrian fatalities during the 10-year period
  • Those aged 75 years and older represent 6 percent of the tri-state region’s population, but 16.5 percent of pedestrian deaths.
  • The pedestrian fatality rate for the region’s residents 60 and older is 2.5 times higher than that of residents under 60.
  • For residents 75 and older, the pedestrian fatality rate is more than three times that of those under 60.

Tri-State Average Pedestrian Fatality Rate by Age Group (2003-2012)

Source: TSTC analysis of the NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System Encyclopedia, 2003-2012, U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates and 2010 Census. U.S. fatality rates include tri-state region.

According to AARP, decreased bone density exacerbates injuries sustained by seniors. Coupled with mobility issues that hinder their ability to cross a road quickly, this age group is particularly prone to critical injuries from car collisions. However, simple roadway improvements – clearly marked crosswalks, longer crossing signals and wider pedestrian islands – make walking safer and easier for older residents and younger residents alike.

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NJDOT’s 2015 Proposed Transportation Capital Program: A Better Future in Sight?

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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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NACTO State Transportation Departments Walk the Walk

State transportation departments 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

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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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.

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How Will Bicyclists and Pedestrians Be Accommodated on a Rebuilt NJ Route 35? Let Us Count the Ways

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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

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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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States Spend on Expansion While Roads Decay

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 [...]

Steal This Complete Streets Checklist

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.
NJDOT's project checklist.

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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How NJ’s Bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund Costs Drivers an Extra $600 a Year

Photo: state.nj.us

Photo: state.nj.us

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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