By David Cruz
It’s not the most exciting subject matter to talk about, but highway, bridge and transportation infrastructure work is critical to the present and future economic growth of New Jersey and the region, say New Jersey’s federal lawmakers. Today they were joined by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx at the site of a federally-funded highway project on Route 80 to help make their point.
“This is one of the few upgrades New Jersey and the rest of the country may see for a while because it looks like Congress is about to pass a bill that extends transportation funding but doesn’t substantially increase it and doesn’t substantially set us up for the future we need,” said Foxx.
But Congress, and the president, have agreed to move forward on the bill that funds the federal Highway Trust Fund to the tune of $11 billion through next spring. The fund is set to go broke next month and the deadline has inspired some 11th hour bipartisanship, but Sen. Bob Menendez says that kind of short-term fix makes it hard for states like New Jersey to move badly-needed projects forward.
“It’s not just about highways,” said Menendez. “It’s not just about asphalt. It’s not just about steel and bridges. It’s not just about a ferry that gets us across to Manhattan or a PATH station or a PATH ride or New Jersey Transit train. This is about people. It’s about jobs.”
The president has proposed a four-year, $300 billion plan to fully fund the Highway Trust Fund, but with Congress headed toward mid-term elections and soon after that the presidential season, not even Obama’s own party seems interested in anything more than a patch fix. Even Sen. Cory Booker’s impassioned defense of infrastructure investment is not likely to turn Congress’ red light to green.
“A patch is not enough,” added Booker. “It’s time that we have sensible, rational transportation policy that is fiscally prudent and that makes investments to produce returns, that improves our environment, that creates jobs, that empowers our businesses, that makes New Jersey successful.”
Congress has passed similar patches 11 times in the last five years, but despite a nationwide press by Senate Democrats, the likely end of this round of debate on federal highway infrastructure funding appears to be patch number 12.