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A Solution to New Jersey’s Transportation Funding Problem Is on the Horizon

April 1st, 2014 by

Pedestrians in traffic2In 2011, Gov. Christie presented and had approved a five-year transportation funding plan.  In that plan, the governor recommended moving away from a debt-only model and toward a pay-as-you-go program that would begin to address the huge maintenance and repair backlogs in our state’s transportation infrastructure.  Unfortunately, that plan was not implemented.  The state’s transportation trust fund is broke and relying on additional bonding gimmicks to limp along.  The money taken from the ARC Tunnel project is running out and the Port Authority spending smokescreen is lifting.

The good news is that New Jersey Future recently learned that there is a bi-partisan executive and legislative branch plan afoot to solve New Jersey’s transportation funding dilemma.  What common ground did all parties find?  A spokesman for the governor summed up the approach best: “While we know that New Jersey has one of the lowest gas taxes in the nation, we still think our drivers pay too much.”  This was echoed by the legislature’s spokesperson, who said, “New Jersey drivers deserve to drive on safe, well maintained streets without having to pay for them.” 

While all of the details of the new proposal have not yet been worked out, the basic framework has been established.   The governor’s spokesman explained the new approach: “While we recognize that transit riders, bikers and walkers enjoy improved health outcomes, enhance our communities, help keep cars off the street and traffic down, it’s time that they step up more and help pay for the roads that we all love and need.” 

The proposal has three elements:  New user fees, increased enforcement and shifting priorities. 

New user fees.  Pedestrians (and this includes people who walk to and from transit and bike racks) will be charged a sidewalk and pavement use fee.  This fee will be applied even where governments don’t provide sidewalks, but people still walk anyway.  Collecting this fee has not entirely been figured out yet, but sidewalk tolls and a tax on shoes are being considered.

Increased enforcement.  No one likes it when pedestrians and bicyclists get in the way of cars, especially at intersections or on the gravelly shoulders of roads.  New and steeper penalties will be put in place for pedestrians and bicyclists that impede the flow of cars.  Law-enforcement personnel will be authorized to detain scofflaws and confiscate bicycles and footwear.  Confiscated materials will be auctioned in order to raise additional revenue. 

Shifting priorities.  Even with the new revenue generated from user fees and enforcement, the state will need to shift priorities to keep all the cars in the state moving.  We all know that it takes a lot of time and money to maintain roads and fix potholes.  The state will no longer waste its money on quality maintenance and repair, but instead will provide a subsidy to residents for the purchase of sport utility vehicles (SUVs).  The policy shift is best described by an NJDOT spokesperson: “SUVs are built for off-road driving. We have come a long way in ensuring that our roads meet the tough requirements of these vehicles, and now we want to provide incentives to grow the state’s fleet of SUVs.”   (The “ride your horse to work” provision of the proposal was dropped when calculations showed there is not enough undeveloped pastureland left in the state to support so large a projected increase in horse ownership.)

 A joint spokesperson concluded by saying, “While we don’t expect this proposal to solve our long-term transportation funding problem, it represents one of the most serious efforts that we have taken in years.”

New Jersey Future stands ready to assist the governor and legislature with this or any other proposal designed to addresses the state’s dire transportation infrastructure problem.

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