Op-Ed: Steering New Jersey to the right path on transportation

Ed Potosnak | December 21, 2020 | Opinion, Energy & Environment
‘Gov. Murphy also has an opportunity to exhibit regional leadership by ensuring there are strong equity principles’ in regional Transportation and Climate Initiative
Ed Potosnak

Gov. Phil Murphy has set a high bar for New Jersey: reducing carbon emissions from all sectors by 80% and achieving 100% clean energy by 2050. In order for a state like New Jersey to meet these ambitious goals, major shifts in how we produce and distribute electricity, heat our homes, and travel will be required.

In New Jersey, almost half of our yearly greenhouse gas emissions comes from transportation. Gas-powered cars, vans, trucks and buses dominate our roadways, even as the state implements new programs to electrify these modes of transportation. Gov. Murphy has helped lead the way with an effort to electrify trucks and buses by 2050 but even more needs to be done to actualize an 80% reduction in carbon pollution.

In the past few years, New Jersey has committed over $15 billion to adding more traffic lanes in an attempt to fix bottlenecks at bridges and tunnels through road widening, all in an effort to reduce traffic and congestion in the tri-state area. Yet too often, we still wait in traffic jams at all hours of the day — congestion defines our state. Of course, we need safe roads and bridges, but we need that same level of commitment to other multimodal sources of travel — trains, buses, biking and walking — that make communities more livable, improve quality of life, and help sustain local and small business, and downtown economies.

We can make smarter, forward-looking investments in our transit infrastructure. We can invest in our communities, making them more walkable. We can invest in electric-vehicle infrastructure, making air cleaner for everyone, but especially for our overburdened and underserved communities of color who feel the full brunt of harmful pollution from cars, vans, trucks and buses passing through on their way to and from destinations on highways that cut through Black and brown communities.

One solution to take transportation to the next level in the Garden State is sitting right in front of us:  the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI). This initiative is a regional (12-state) program to modernize the transportation sector along the Eastern U.S., making it easier and healthier for all of us to get around while making a sizable dent in our goal to reach an 80% reduction in carbon pollution. It won’t solve all our problems, but the trick right now is to start making smarter transportation decisions that enhance the quality of life in our communities, improve public health, and move us in the right direction to reduce carbon pollution.

Meeting our energy goals in diverse ways

As executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, it’s my job to hold our elected officials accountable by pushing for a New Jersey that is stronger, safer and more sustainable. As a New Jerseyan, I know what it means to be “Jersey Strong” and take our commitment to meet our goal of 80% greenhouse-gas reductions and make it happen — money. TCI is a viable and effective funding mechanism to help get us there.

TCI will help raise some of the money we need to modernize New Jersey and reduce our transportation emissions, as it will generate millions of dollars that we desperately need by making polluters pay. Funds from TCI can be used in a variety of ways, which is great for a state as diverse as ours. This includes anything from funding New Jersey Transit to helping transition to electric vehicles by building out electric car-, bus-, van- and truck-charging infrastructure.

Gov. Murphy also has an opportunity to exhibit regional leadership by ensuring there are strong equity principles in the TCI memorandum of understanding. He should send a loud and clear message that New Jersey is committed to a regional comprehensive approach to climate action and protecting the most vulnerable in our communities of color who have historically and unjustly borne the disproportionate burden of pollution. It does not have to be an either-or decision. We must listen to the clear concerns of Black and brown families and address them to ensure we are laser-focused on reducing pollution in environmental justice communities, prioritizing investments, strong monitoring and evaluation of air quality data, and stronger public stakeholding in communities of color.

New Jersey is not a one-size-fits-all state, and thankfully the Transportation and Climate Initiative is not a one-size-fits-all solution. We can tailor TCI to meet our state’s unique needs. After years of bad transportation investments and a lot of talk about making things better, this is an actionable solution. And it is one we can implement right away, not 25 years from now. I encourage Gov. Murphy to sign the upcoming TCI agreement among the states to move forward to making TCI work for New Jersey.