In its most recent report on the nation’s infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) rated New Jersey a D+. The construction, repair, and maintenance of the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities of New Jersey are critically underfunded. With so many old roads, bridges, dams, water systems, schools, ports, etc., and such high population density, the situation is growing dire. Even modest disruptions in service can inconvenience tens of thousands, as last summer’s problems with the electrical system in the Hudson River rail tunnels demonstrated.
Our physical infrastructure includes our drinking water delivery systems and the dams, levees, and reservoirs that manage the flow of water. Public schools, parks, ports, canals, and energy systems all need attention. But perhaps none is more important than the New Jersey transportation system: highways and local roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, and the mass transit systems. New Jersey is the densest state in the nation with an average of over 1,200 persons per square mile. A modest disruption in service affects countless thousands of the states’ 3,900,000 daily commuters. The failures of the Hudson River rail tunnel electrical system this past summer, the removal from service and repair of the northbound Pulaski Skyway ongoing since 2014, and local bridges closed to traffic due to their poor structural condition such as the Nottingham Way Bridge in Hamilton and the Glimmer Glass Bridge in Manasquan are just some of the more recent headlines in the news of New Jersey’s failure to maintain our critical transportation systems.
ASCE estimates that 9.5%, 624 of the total of 6,566 bridges in the state, are structurally deficient, and a full 26% (1710) bridges are over- capacity, or not designed per current code, or in other words, functionally obsolete. Similarly, per ASCE, 35 % of our major roads, including interstates, the NJ Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway are in poor condition, and another 30% are in mediocre condition. Each year it is estimated that New Jersey drivers spend a total of $3.6 billion on car repairs, caused by deficient road conditions, an average of $605 per year per motorist.
The mass transit infrastructure network is equally in need of adequate funding. The Hudson River rail tunnels are only one Superstorm Sandy away from bringing bi-state transportation to its knees. US Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the lack of attention to repair the tunnels “almost criminal”. The sudden cancellation by Governor Christie in 2010 of the ARC (Access to Region’s Core) commuter rail project, which would have provided two new Hudson River rail tunnels setback critically needed improvements to New Jersey Transit’s ability to meet the state’s commuting requirements. The existing 105-year-old rail tunnels have operated at 100% capacity for many years, sharing their limited track slots with AMTRAK. Two additional transit projects are ready to begin, awaiting funding: an 18 mile light rail-system between Glassboro and Camden, which would help alleviate heavily-congested roads in this part of South Jersey; and a 10-mile extension to the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.
New Jersey Transit is the third largest rail system in the country, and New Jersey has the highest rail density in the United States. As currently funded, New Jersey cannot keep up with increasing demands and maintenance requirements. To quote Senator Corey Booker, “We inherited from our grandparents the best infrastructure on the globe and we’ve squandered our inheritance.”
On top of the safety considerations and concerns about major service disruptions, many of the state’s deteriorating bridges, tunnels, dams, roads, etc., also are valuable and vulnerable historic resources. The Holland Tunnel is a National Historic Landmark, and the Lincoln Tunnel approach and helix are eligible for listing on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. The Stony Brook Bridge in Princeton, the oldest bridge in the state, was recently closed after a partial collapse, and still is not open to truck traffic. The vacant and deteriorating Liberty State Park Train Terminal is listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places; already in a precarious condition, it was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
The New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) is the vehicle to pay for our state’s deteriorating infrastructure. The TTF was established in 1984 by Governor Thomas Kean and was the first program of its kind in the nation. It is funded primarily by consumer gasoline tax receipts, with additional contributions from the NJ Turnpike and South Jersey Transportation Authorities, and from general sales tax revenue. The TTF holds approximately $16 billion in debt and most of its current revenue is required to pay debt service. For decades, the Transportation, Trust Fund Authority has been reissuing and refinancing existing bonds, leaving little for the massive capital projects this state needs. The NJ state gas tax was set at 10.5 cents per gallon in 1984 and has not risen since that date. This is the next to lowest consumer gas tax in the nation, second only to Alaska which interestingly is the least dense state in the country. Our neighboring states’ gas taxes are many time New Jersey’s: New York is 50.5 cent per gallon and Pennsylvania is 41.8 cents per gallon. Raising taxes in the high tax- burdened state such as New Jersey is a difficult challenge. However, the time is now. In 2010, only 35% of New Jerseyans supported a gas tax increase. In 2015, this increased to 50%. The idea is palatable to the drivers and commuters of New Jersey. We need Trenton to follow suit.
Preservation New Jersey