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Mass Transit Expert Says Commuters’ Love for Automobile is Unbreakable

7-11-12

North Jersey motorists will be faced with a major traffic headache that is expected to last past the summer. Beginning Monday, repairs are set to begin on the Alexander Hamilton Bridge in Manhattan. Those repairs are expected to back up traffic all the way onto the George Washington Bridge and way beyond for three months. Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke with Martin Robins, Director of the Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University, about the potential traffic nightmare and more.

About the possible bottleneck in the very sensitive areas affected by the repair work, Robins says problems are to be expected. “They’re dealing with closing a lane from the lower level onto the Cross Bronx Expressway right near the ramp to the Major Deegan Expressway,” explains Robins. “This is an extremely congested area ordinarily and you take away one of the lanes away, and it will become a very, very serious bottleneck.”

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No matter how inconvenienced motorists maybe when incidents like this happens, Martin says that, in his years at NJ Transit, public support for alternative mass transit options just wasn’t there due to the love affair with the automobile.

According to Robins, motorists find alternative routes to deal with congestion. “They might drive up to the Tappan Zee Bridge or they even try, although it won’t be availing, go to the Lincoln Tunnel. People that are devoted to their automobiles tend to be very difficult to move out of it. The punishment that they’ll take from this particular, inescapably necessary, improvement may not be enough to make them change their habits.”

NJ Transit is proposing a $3 billion spending plan and says that it will maintain and enhance services without raising fares. Robins explains that NJ Transit has a dual way of dealing with its operating needs and its capital needs. “On the capital side, there’s a completely separate stream of revenue that has developed over the last 30 years coming originally from the federal government and the transportation trust fund. And now, there are additional sources like Port Authority revenues and Turnpike revenues.”

While buying new equipment like new buses, more bi-level cars and dual locomotives enhances the system to some extent, Robins says the enhancement is somewhere between ordinary expenditure and something that is meaningful.

As for improving rail service, NJ Transit service greatly depends on Amtrak. Robins gives a lot of credit to the current leadership there, saying “Amtrak is very progressive, very serious about trying to make a difference.” Whatever their good intentions, however, Robins says “Amtrak can only do so much without the massive support of the U.S. Congress ”

He says the limited federal support and lack of new funding sources mean that Amtrak will continue to have areas that are overly aged and obsolescent for the foreseeable future.

“For instance, Amtrak got approximately $500 million from Congress to develop new traction and catenary in the area from Philadelphia and New Brunswick. But they don’t have the money yet to do the same project, equally needed, from New Brunswick into New York.”


Related: NJ Transit Board Approves $1.9 Billion Operating Budget