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Op-Ed: Wanted -- A Bipartisan Agreement to Repair Our Roads, Bridge and Tunnels

New Jersey’s transportation infrastructure is crumbling before our eyes, as some 300,000 potholes make painfully clear

greg lalevee
Greg Lalevee

We have a unique opportunity here in New Jersey to prove that we have the political will to rise above party politics and take action, in a bipartisan manner, to save our state’s crumbling infrastructure, move New Jersey forward, and avert a crisis that affects all of us.

Right now our legislators in the Senate and the Assembly are working on a plan to save the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), which will be insolvent by June if action isn’t taken immediately. Sadly, special interests are already weighing in to try and thwart progress. We cannot allow this agreement to be derailed.

Let’s be clear, this is an imminent threat our state is facing. Our highways, bridges and tunnels are crumbing before our very eyes. Just looking at our bridges alone we have 2,334 problematic bridges; 624 are structurally deficient; and 1,710 are functionally obsolete.

Why are our bridges, tunnels, and roads in such disrepair? There are a number of factors that have led to our dilapidated infrastructure. The most unfortunate reason is one faced across the nation: politics. We have kicked the can down the road again and again and again. But unlike the rest of the nation, we have it worse due to uniquely New Jersey issues.

Our highway system is one of the oldest in the nation. Because our bridges and roads are so old they are made from materials like concrete that require repair more often and require more work when being repaired. This is, unfortunately, a historical reality we can’t escape without our bridges literally falling down.

We are also a densely populated state, and for good reason! We love New Jersey for its convenience to big cities like New York, Washington, and Philadelphia. We are also a corridor state. We have nonstop commuters, trucks, and buses barreling down our highways at a rate folks in Wisconsin couldn’t fathom. That action has added to our economy and brought jobs with it. In fact, $500 billion worth of goods produced in New Jersey are transported across the nation via our highways. The downside is that our roads take a beating like no other roadways in the nation.

The TTF has gone unfunded for far too long, preventing much-needed capital projects from being able to get approved and underway. A failure to act will lead to certain doom.

Our Senate and Assembly, with help from our governor, can fix this. And they will if the people of New Jersey let them know that we collectively demand it and expect them to put politics aside and reach a bipartisan agreement.

The good news is that there is an agreement in the works. The bad news is that it is being threatened by special interests on both sides. The bipartisan plan is fairly straightforward: Increase the state gas tax -- which currently is the second-lowest in the nation -- to a level that can fund the TTF while simultaneously offering some relief on the inheritance tax.

A move like this makes common sense on a few levels. First of all, it won’t just be the people of New Jersey footing the bill, because all of that corridor traffic will be chipping in too. Furthermore, by tackling this issue head on we will all benefit not only from fixing dangerous bridges and broken down highways, but we actually save money due to things like lower auto repair bills. According to the Department of Transportation (DOT) you pay an average of $601 in auto repairs every year thanks to our 300,000 potholes. That’s 33 percent higher than our friends in New York.

For us in New Jersey, this is an issue both sides should, and must get behind. Let your senators, Assembly members, and our governor know that you want a bipartisan agreement on the Transportation Trust Fund now.

Greg Lalevee is business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 825.

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