NJDOT Shuts Down Bridges Amid Emergency Inspections

January 21, 2015 | Politics, Transportation
NJDOT has closed several bridges, but officials wonder where the money to fix them will come from.

By Brenda Flanagan

“This is a main artery coming down to our street,” said Furniture store owner Mark Lineblad.

Not anymore. State transportation officials closed the Prospect Street Bridge in Dover — cutting off access to Mark Lindeblad’s furniture store. Kassandra Torres realized the roadblock stopped more than cars from crossing over the NJ Transit railroad tracks.

“Unfortunately, the handicapped people can’t even get through, because of the whole bridge situation,” Dover Church member Kassandra Torres said.

“It’s a nuisance for everyone to try to find us anyway,” Lindeblad said.

“I think it’s a fiasco,” said Mayor Jim Dodd.

Dodd acknowledges the bridge looks jerry-rigged, with chains and steel girders supporting the deck that can no longer carry heavy trucks. Still, he says New Jersey Department of Transportation’s decision came as a surprise — and it’s creating safety concerns.

“This is a main access road to the residential area,” Dodd said. So if anybody needs an ambulance or police car over there, Dodd said, “It’s gonna be extremely difficult.”

Earlier this month, NJDOT also shut down Amwell Road Bridge in Franklin Township. And following the collapse of a span in Cincinnati, the agency announced it’s conducting emergency re-inspections of 40 of New Jersey’s most structurally deficient bridges — ones that need repairs within 30 days. But New Jersey can’t afford to fix bridges or roads, without finding more money for the Transportation Trust Fund. Raising gas taxes is not a popular option.

“I don’t want to, no. You know, we all need a little break for a while with the price of gas,” said Andy Olsen.

Currently New Jersey motorists pay a bit over 14 cents a gallon in gas tax at the pump — plus an 18-cent federal tax. Add it up and the almost 33-cent-a-gallon levy’s still the lowest in the nation — half the gas taxes paid in New York. Pennsylvania tops the tax tank at close to 70 cents.

Proposals to fund the Transportation Trust Fund include raising New Jersey’s gas tax by 15 cents a gallon — that’d bring the total tax to almost 48 cents — or bumping up by 25 cents a gallon, totaling 58 cents. To blunt some of the pain, some advocates suggest lawmakers reduce New Jersey’s inheritance or estate taxes, or restore the Earned Income Tax Credit, which New Jersey Policy Perspective’s Gordon MacInnes says could put $300 a year back in people’s pockets.

“Restoring that cut would address significantly but not completely the needs of people who are working — need their cars and are paying much much more for their gasoline,” said MacInnes.

“It’s critical that we find the revenue — whatever the revenue sources are acceptable. We need to find a solution to this. Our economy depends primarily on our transportation network,” said Laborers International Union of America Director Joe McNamera.

The Christie administration knows raising taxes is politically toxic, so it’s phrasing the question this way: higher taxes or closed bridges? Take your pick.