Governor steers N.J. away from road expansion
Wed, Jan. 08, 2003
He also created a panel to anticipate the next
decade's transportation concerns.
By Jennifer Moroz
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Saying that
"highway expansion leads to more
congestion," Gov. McGreevey yesterday called for working with what the
state already has rather than adding to it.
At what was billed as
the first in an annual series of state transportation conferences, McGreevey
also signed an executive order creating a blue-ribbon commission to identify the
next decade's most pressing transportation issues - and ways to address
The panel, consisting of seven representatives of the public and
chaired by the state transportation commissioner, will be required to issue
recommendations in early 2004.
"The challenge for the next year is
clear," McGreevey told about 1,000 developers, environmentalists, labor
representatives and government officials at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick.
"We must plan carefully and set forth a transportation strategy for the next
McGreevey further directed state transportation officials to
come up with a plan to speed construction of priority projects. He emphasized
that spending would be focused on improving existing infrastructure - roads,
bridges, rail lines - instead of expansion.
The transportation budget
already has been modified to reflect this "Fix it first" strategy - the same
approach featured in the state's "smart growth" plan, which aims to prevent
sprawl by favoring redevelopment of blighted areas over new construction.
Funding for new transportation construction has been reduced from 20 percent of
the capital budget to 4 percent.
we're trying to move people and ease congestion, we can't build more highways
that will bring in even more congestion," acting Transportation
Commissioner Jack Lettiere said. "We have to be intelligent about where we put
This year, transportation officials have a capital budget of
about $2.5 billion. If spending levels remain constant, they estimate, there are
an additional $5 billion worth of needed projects that the state won't be able
to get to over the next five years.
Already, state officials said,
commuters in New Jersey collectively waste an estimated 261 million hours a year
sitting or crawling in
traffic. And they said things could only get worse in
the next 20 years, when an additional one million people are expected to join
the 8.4 million who already live in the state.
A main talking point
yesterday was how to "sell" transportation in tough economic
Federal lawmakers, who appropriate roughly half the state's
transportation capital budget, are expected to consider new funding levels in
the next few months.
And the state Transportation Trust Fund, which is
fed in large part by the state's gasoline tax, comes up for renewal next year.
This year, that fund is contributing $1 billion toward capital
State officials at the conference said they hoped that by
developing a list of priority projects - showing people where their money is
going and why specifically it is needed - legislators and the public they
represent would be convinced of a need for more funding.
Wisniewski (D., Middlesex), chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee,
pointed to projects such as the Southern New Jersey Light Rail Transit System as
reasons the public might be leery. Democrats have described the rail line, being
built between Camden and Trenton at an estimated cost of $1 billion, as a
"People have to be convinced that their transportation dollars will be used