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Our transportation future
Written by Assemblyman John Wisniewski   
Monday, 02 February 2009 21:13

New Jersey's transportation infrastructure is beginning to show its age.

Situated as we are between two urban centers - Philadelphia and New York City - our portions of the federal highway system and the 36,000 miles of state owned roadways carry billions of dollars of freight and commerce annually to other parts of the country.

Unfortunately, it also means that our highways are nearly always choked with cars, trucks and buses.  A 2004 report by the New Jersey Institute of Technology found that Garden State motorists, on average, spend about 34 hours - just over four workdays - sitting in traffic each year.  Most New Jerseyans commute more than 20 miles one way to work, in a car by themselves, without the benefit of a carpool or mass transit opportunities.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski
Those that do have the ability to take mass transit are facing increasing ridership demands that will result in a mass transit system operating at or beyond capacity by 2015.  What's worse, our mass transit system is in desperate need of an overhaul.  Portions of New Jersey's transit corridor from Trenton to New York are powered by technology that is more than a century old.

New Jersey also is on track to become the first state to reach complete infrastructure build out, sometime in the next three decades.

Add to all this a global economic crisis that is being increasingly compared to the Great Depression, New Jersey's perennial budget woes and our desire to keep our motor fuels tax and toll rates among the lowest in the nation.  This means the prospect of addressing our state's very real infrastructure needs alone becomes increasingly difficult.  Fortunately, the solution lies in the pages of history.

Fifty-two years ago, to forestall an economic depression following the end of World War II, the federal government authorized the single largest public works project in history - the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 - that created our 46,837 mile, coast-to-coast network of highways and put millions of Americans to work.  The 35-year, $114 billion project ($425 billion in 2006 dollars, adjusted for inflation) had a tangible benefit to U.S. families - creating millions of jobs across the country.

Now, as then, we have an opportunity - and a real need - to invest in our nation's infrastructure through President Obama's proposed economic stimulus package.

Serious federal investment in transportation infrastructure would benefit New Jersey immensely.  Transportation infrastructure investment would give:

A much needed overhaul to the nation's busiest toll road - the Garden State Parkway;

A much needed overhaul to the nation's fifth busiest toll road - the New Jersey Turnpike;

Funding to complete widening projects for both roadways to accommodate the state's 5.9 million licensed drivers and the tens of thousands of commuters from New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut that utilize the toll roads on a daily basis;

Overhauls and expansions of the nation's third largest port system and the Eastern seaboard's busiest port - Ports Elizabeth and Newark;

Overhauls to our nation's third largest mass transit system - NJ Transit, which leases track from the nation's largest mass transit system, Amtrak;

Improvements to our two international airports in Newark and Atlantic City;

Funding to complete the new trans-Hudson rail tunnel linking Manhattan and North Jersey;

Funding to repair the state's 2,000 deteriorating bridges and spans;

Our world-class state transportation infrastructure the ability to continue carrying billions of dollars in freight, commerce and commuters for a generation.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, every $1 billion in highway construction creates 42,000 jobs.  Every dollar invested in our transportation network generates $5.60 in direct economic benefits.  Moreover, independent transportation and economic experts estimate a $200 billion infrastructure investment would create 2.5 million jobs across the country. And an investment of $250 billion would be enough to repair every bridge and span in the country, ensuring that the devastation that followed the catastrophic failure of the I-35 span in Minneapolis won't be repeated.

New Jersey could see hundreds of thousands of new jobs created and millions of dollars pumped into our economy from just a few billion dollars in federal infrastructure investment.  This, combined with a renewed, dedicated source of revenue will ensure New Jersey's current and continuing transportation needs stay in the fast lane.

John S. Wisniewski is a member of the New Jersey General Assembly representing the 19th District, which includes a portion of Middlesex County. A Democrat, he chairs the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee.

Comments (1)Add Comment
Kyle Wiswall
written by Kyle Wiswall, February 04, 2009
Assemb. Wisniewski missed the mark when he touted the widening projects on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike as panaceas for the ailing economy. Not only do the projects fall short in achieving the promised congestion relief, they don't even qualify for the federal stimulus money the Assemblyman cites.
As designed, the toll road expansions represent the worst in transportation planning from the last century. In the case of the Parkway, growth patterns show that a full third of the corridor will have more traffic congestion than it does now only two years after construction is complete, with the entire parkway ending up with worse congestion – and more cars – before the project's design year. This is due to a concept called "induced demand" – essentially "if you build it, they will come." On the Turnpike, the state will put this concept to the test, proposing a project so big, even they admit that it is far more than is necessary. The result will be more of the sprawling growth patterns that cause the congestion in the first place. Instead of perpetuating the cycle, the state needs to look to better traffic management and investment in transit.
Using federal stimulus money for the toll road projects will only complicate matters, since federal money will mean federal permit approvals – something the state has so far avoided. The costly review process that would necessarily ensue means that these projects aren't as "shovel ready" as they appear.
Instead of pushing these wasteful, counterproductive projects, our legislators should be pushing mass transit and maintenance projects, like rehabilitating the Mathis Bridge in Tom's River or investing in the ARC Tunnel for increased NJ Transit service. Not only are these options better for our environment, but according to a study by the Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, they create up to 19% more jobs per dollar than simply building new roads.

Kyle Wiswall, esq.
General Counsel
Tri-State Transportation Campaign

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