That option faces an uncertain future, however, because New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo refused to provide matching funds for the project, Bloomberg is leaving office, and his likely successor, Democrat Bill DiBlasio, has yet to take a position on the project.
The new rail tunnel isn’t the only project critical to New Jersey’s transportation system and future economic growth that is sitting on the drawing board because of a lack of funding. The extension of the west branch of the Hudson-Bergen light rail line across Route 440 would open up for development land owned by Jersey City and Honeywell. The extension of the north branch of the Hudson-Bergen light rail to Englewood and the expansion of the Gloucester County light rail system are also awaiting funding, possibly as part of the next Transportation Trust Fund renewal. Together, the three projects could cost $1.5 billion to $2 billion.
The backup in mass-transit projects, coupled with New Jersey’s low ranking on annual surveys of highway maintenance and bridges that need replacement or repair, raises questions about whether renewal of the Transportation Trust Fund in 2016 for five years at the current $1.6 billion state funding level is adequate to meet the state’s transportation capital needs.
In fact, the Facing Our Future task force convened by the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers concluded that New Jersey would need an additional $1.5 billion a year above current Transportation Trust Fund expenditure levels to meet the needs of the state’s aging transportation infrastructure, Sam Crane, a former state treasurer, said in releasing the infrastructure report of the bipartisan blue-ribbon panel last April.
“The problem of underfunding goes back a long time, and it’s not a partisan issue,” Robins said. “It was about 10 years ago that [Democratic] Governor [Jim] McGreevey undermined his own blue-ribbon commission that recommended a 12 ½ cent increase in the gas tax. Had that been considered and adopted, we would not be in the position we are today. If that gas tax increase had been considered and approved, it would have done so much “
Facing Our Future now projects that New Jersey might need to triple its 14.5 cent gas tax to fully meet its transportation needs. While such an increase is unlikely, it would simply bring New Jersey’s gas tax up to the 43-cent tax now imposed in New York State and just above Pennsylvania’s 39 cents a gallon.
No gas tax increase is likely to be approved in the next four years if Christie, who has a large lead in the polls over Buono, is reelected Nov. 5.
That will make finding $3 billion for the new Gateway Tunnel and reauthorizing the Transportation Trust Fund at current levels a heavy lift for the new governor and Legislature, especially if Christie is in the early stages of a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2015 when difficult transportation funding decisions need to be made.
On June 30, 2016, New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund will be essentially bankrupt, left with no money for new projects.