New Jersey has more than 5.4 billion square feet of roads packed into the fourth-smallest state geographically, and they get plenty of use carrying 8.9 million residents across the most densely populated state in the nation. But there are problems with this setup.
The state has spent more than $15 billion in Transportation Trust Fund money on highways and local roads, according to the report “The Fiscal Implications of Development Patterns: Roads in New Jersey” released earlier this month by New Jersey Future and Smart Growth America. This year, the state expects to spend $754 million. Neither of those figures includes money that municipalities spend to maintain local roads.
Despite all this spending, the report states that 35 percent of roads in the state are in poor condition and 36 percent of bridges need repair or replacement.
Some of the report’s conclusions come too late, since roads networks in more rural areas already exist. But to minimize costs in the future, the groups recommend directing new development into more compact, densely populated and well-developed areas. That will reduce the need for new roads and new maintenance costs over the long term as communities with less pavement per person can spend less on maintaining their roads.
The report does not address traffic problems, which are often worse in more densely populated urban areas.
On average, New Jersey has 397 square feet of local roads per person and per employee, according to the groups’ analysis. Those that are least efficient, with potentially the highest maintenance costs per capita, are 54 municipalities — including most of Salem County, northern Warren and western Hunterdon counties — with 1,700 square feet or more of roads per person.
Not surprisingly, the municipalities with the fewest square feet of local roads per person and per worker are in urban areas, with Hudson County communities taking six of the top 10 spots.
1. Guttenberg, Hudson County
Among the 10 smallest municipalities in the state, covering less than a quarter of a square mile, Guttenberg topped the list with just 53.9 square feet of pavement per capita (the sum of residents and workers). Its population of about 11,500 makes Guttenberg New Jersey’s most densely populated community.
2. West New York, Hudson County
Located just south of Guttenberg, this still small community — 1.33 miles square — has 56.7 square feet of roads per capita and a population of about 52,000. It is the third most-densely populated municipality in the state.
3. Jersey City, Hudson County
The largest municipality in Hudson County and second most-populous community in the state with about 262,000 people, Jersey City is the 10th most densely populated municipality in the state. The anchor of New Jersey’s Gold Coast with a booming business climate, Jersey City has 59 square feet of pavement per capita. The city covers about 21 square miles.
4. Hoboken, Hudson County
Just north of Jersey City, this waterfront municipality has 67.1 square feet of roads per person. It is the fourth most-densely populated place in New Jersey, with about 53,000 residents living in a little more than two square miles.
5. Union City, Hudson County
This is the first municipality on the list without any Hudson River waterfront property. The second most-densely populated city in New Jersey, Union City has nearly 69,000 people living in less than 1.3 square miles. There are 68.8 square feet of road per capita.
6. Teterboro, Bergen County
The first community outside of Hudson, Teterboro is one of the 20 least-densely populated municipalities in the state, with about 70 people living in less than 1.2 square miles. The 827-acre Teterboro Airport takes up most of the borough’s land and spills over into Moonachie and Hasbrouck Heights. There are 73.3 square feet of local roads per capita.
7. Edgewater, Bergen County
Back along the waterfront, just north of Hudson County, this municipality has 100.6 square feet of pavement per capita. More than 12,000 people live within its 2.4 square miles.
8. Weehawken, Hudson County
Between Hoboken and West New York, this municipality has nearly 14,000 people living in just 1.5 square miles. It has 103.5 square feet of local roads per capita.
9. New Brunswick, Middlesex County
The only municipality on the list outside of northeastern New Jersey, the city has a population of about 57,000, but that swells on weekdays and during the school year due to workers and Rutgers University students. New Brunswick covers about 5.8 square miles and it has 108.5 square feet of road per capita.
10. Passaic City, Passaic County
The northernmost community on the list, Passaic is the state’s seventh most-densely populated municipality and the most crowded in the county, with about 71,500 people living in its 3.2 square miles. The city has 108.9 square feet of pavement per capita.