By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
It was a one-sided dialogue before the Assembly Transportation Committee.
Eight speakers, eight voices all urging lawmakers to fix the Transportation Trust Fund.
“In the last decade I do not remember an issue of such prominence where the consensus was so powerful,” said New Jersey Policy Perspective President Gordon MacInnes.
Gov. Chris Christie said on his radio show recently it’s not a crisis and by relying on $600 million in previously authorized borrowing plus carry-over money the state can get through one more year of transportation funding.
Meanwhile, he says he’s negotiating with the Senate president and Assembly speaker on a new five-year plan.
Committee Chairman John Wisniewski said today it “is” a crisis.
“Right now every dollar spent on transportation capital is borrowed money. Right now we have $27 billion that we need to repay over the next 30 years before any of the currently collected money frees up to pay for new transportation capital,” Wisniewski said.
“I don’t know what else we need to make this crisis any clearer. And dare I even talk about what’s going to happen in 2017, let alone 2016 now that we’re borrowing another $600 million to put another band-aid on the situation,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Senior NJ Policy Analyst Janna Chernetz.
Obsolete bridges, traffic congestion, potholes, pedestrian fatalities, transit delays — all are put forward as reasons to find new sources of funds.
“I stood with Senate President Sweeney the other day and we talked about the need. You mentioned this chairman, if those folks don’t have a rail line to take to New York, what are they gonna do? They’re gonna depend on our roads and bridges, and our roads and bridges are in atrocious shape,” said Utility and Transportation Contractors of NJ Executive Director Anthony Attanasio.
Raising the gas tax by 25 cents per gallon is Wisniewski’s solution.
His colleagues seem convinced something needs to be done.
“It’s like we’re living in a third world country. I don’t understand how other countries are so exceptional with their transportation systems,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle.
“New Jersey has one asset that no other state has and that asset is, we’re located in the world’s largest market, in the middle of it with good access to New York in the north and Philadelphia in the south. We all know that. A lot of people have moved here because of that. But that asset only counts in growing our economy if we have a network of transportation that will move people and goods and services around and through the state,” MacInnes said.
State Chamber of Commerce President Tom Bracken, who’s been leading the trust fund effort, was not here today but put out a statement saying enough with all the talk, it’s time to do something.