Wednesday, September 13, 2017

New Report Summarizes New Jersey Transportation Dilemmas

The Fund for New Jersey has been publishing a major series of issue papers ahead of next year’s state elections and has now taken on transportation.  “Transportation Must Again Be the Backbone of New Jersey Economy” crisply outlines the key dilemmas facing state policymakers (full report here, two-page summary here; full disclosure, I contributed to the development of the report).
The four main issues:
First, although New Jersey enacted a 23-cent (!) increase in the gas tax in 2016, there are still major funding shortfalls and misallocations.  The funding influx staves off bankruptcy for the state’s Transportation Trust Fund but doesn’t solve long-term problems.  Operations and maintenance are starved for funding on both the highway and transit sides, made up for in part by transfers from capital to operating and by damaging fare increases. 
Second, the massive Gateway rail projects connecting New Jersey to New York are in desperate need of more funding and an accelerated schedule.  These projects are needed not just to cope with the massive growth in rail traffic but to prevent a transportation nightmare.  While our attention is understandably and appropriately concentrated on the human misery and costly damages caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, New Jersey and New York are still dealing with the effects of Superstorm Sandy.  To quote the report:
“Corrosive salts left by Superstorm Sandy’s flooding are eating away at the concrete walls and electric-traction and signal systems in the tunnel. Engineers project that, in the next 10 to 20 years, each of the two tubes will have to be taken out of service for overhaul. If either tube goes out of service before a replacement is operational (estimated to be in 2026), today’s peak commuter and intercity service of 24 trains an hour (21 NJ Transit and three Amtrak) would shrink to six.”
Third, the governance structures of New Jersey’s transportation agencies (NJDOT, NJ Transit, the toll authorities) have lots of tangled inefficiencies, often a result – as the report notes – of politicians focusing on the perceived “optics” of government at the expense of actual good practice.  At NJDOT there are chronic staff shortages in key areas, and the management structure has been hollowed out by years of salary compression.  The report makes several recommendations for better governance.
Fourth, New Jersey – like other states – needs to catch up with rapidly evolving transportation technology.
If you read the transportation report and wonder: where is a discussion of land use?  and climate change?  The answer is that those discussions are in an earlier report in the series, “Climate Change Adds Urgency to Restoring Environmental Protection” (see my posting, with links, here).

Congrats again to the Fund for New Jersey for taking on this daunting task!

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