Transit Advocates Worry NJ DOT Is Spending Too Much On New Roads

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STATE – A non-profit transportation advocacy group expressed concerns about New Jersey’s spending priorities in an analysis of the Department of Transportation’s 2012 capital program released this week

The analysis by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign shows maintenance and repair making up the largest category of spending, but also finds a higher percentage of funds going to highway and bridge expansion than in any year in nearly a decade.

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“The analysis makes us concerned the NJDOT is taking on too many new road widening projects that it cannot afford and moving away from smart transportation policies,” said Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

The group expressed concern that funding for signature smart growth programs and projects that have made New Jersey a national leader in smart transportation policy, had been eliminated.

“The Transit Village program is popular with municipalities because it helps them target development to the most appropriate location, near rail and bus hubs,” said Janna Chernetz, New Jersey Advocate for TSTC. “But Transit Village funding has been completely eliminated from the 2012 program.”

The report finds that 44% of the NJDOT’s 2012 capital program is dedicated to fixing and maintaining roadways and bridges, while 11% of funds are going to road expansion projects. Spending on roadway and bridge maintenance has declined since 2008, when it made up 46.9% of the capital program. While spending on road and bridge maintenance still makes up the largest portion of the proposed budget, the agency will be spending a larger portion of its capital program on new construction than it has in any year in nearly a decade. Spending on new road capacity was 3.6% of the capital program in 2009 and 8.9% in 2011, and has generally hovered around 5% since 2004.

The group praised NJDOT for increasing spending on biking and walking projects. Funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects is now nearly 3% of the agency’s overall spending, showing the agency’s continued commitment to making streets safer for all users.

Several themes emerged from Tri-State’s analysis:

1. Road and bridge maintenance continue to make up the largest percentage of NJDOT’s capital program budget. The agency is dedicating 44% of the fiscal year 2012 capital spending to rehabilitation, repair, resurfacing, and replacement projects. NJDOT must prioritize a “fix-it-first” strategy given the poor condition of the state’s existing infrastructure.

2. Spending on road and bridge capacity expansion projects makes up 11% of the capital program, the largest percentage in nearly a decade, threatening to undermine the state’s “fix-it-first” goals.

3. Funding for signature smart growth programs has been reduced or eliminated. The capital program defunds the popular Transit Village and Centers of Place programs. In addition, projects that are part of the NJ Future in Transportation (NJ FIT) program have been cut.

4. Funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects shows NJDOT’s commitment to pedestrian and bicyclist safety. At nearly 3% of the proposed capital program, NJDOT remains a national leader in spending on this area. Sustained funding is critical if the state hopes to continue to reduce bicyclist and pedestrian deaths.

The report offers the following recommendations for the Governor, State Legislature and NJDOT:

  • Recommit to the fix-it-first policy mandated in 2000 to reduce the backlog of deficit roads and bridges by half as the state approves the Transportation Capital Program this year.
  • Take a hard look at proposed road expansion projects and call off projects that will not offer sustainable congestion relief. If the state could not afford the Access to the Region’s Core tunnel project, it cannot afford paying for road expansion projects that do little to reduce traffic congestion.
  • Create a consistent fix-it-first policy among all state transportation agencies, including NJDOT and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority.
  • Restore and increase funding for the state’s smart growth programs to ensure continued progress on these initiatives. Dedicate at least 1 million annually to NJ Transit Village program and the Centers of Place program. Launch a new round of NJ FIT projects that help towns plan for the future.
  • Continue to fund bicycle and pedestrian projects, targeting financial support to places with the highest number of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths. Restore funding to the Safe Routes to Transit program to at least $1 million annually.
  • Use money previously earmarked for Access to the Region’s Core for its intended purpose of improving the cross-Hudson commute.
  • Find new sources of revenue. The proposed capital program relies on $1.8 billion in transfers from the state’s General Fund over five years, revenues that presently do not exist.

The full report can be found at http://www.tstc.org/publications.php


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