By Briana Vannozzi
Gov. Chris Christie signed the bill to great fanfare and applause. The room full of union labor workers at the LiUNA! Local 172 in Bordentown offered a much warmer greeting than the governor is used to from public union sectors. News of a $400 million cash infusion for transportation projects had everyone in an upbeat mood.
“DOT is ready, the project list is done, there’s something in all 21 counties across the state. So everyone is going to see improvement from this in every corner of the state of New Jersey and what that means is you all are going to be working in every corner of the state of New Jersey getting that work done,” Christie said to cheers.
The eight-year plan appropriates money from the Transportation Trust Fund to start critical infrastructure work, bringing spending to $2 billion before the end of the fiscal year.
“Two hundred sixty million dollars on roads and bridges, $140 million on our mass transit systems. All really important. We know how many people ride the buses and ride the trains as well,” Christie said.
“When you’re able to add to our current fiscal year ’17 a supplemental bill of this magnitude — $400 million for shovel ready projects — it puts these people back to work and it’s a jolt to our economy,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.
Prieto says he’s seen the list of projects, prioritized by emergency, though couldn’t offer specifics as to just where those shovels will go in the ground first.
“It means that there’s a predictable stream of funds for road work, which, yes, will keep the pipeline of projects coming out and they know that they’ll have work eight years into the future,” said Greg Lalevee, business manager for Operating Engineers Local 825.
“It means that people can start to put their families back together,” said Lawrence Paynter, member of LiUNA! Local 172.
After 33 years with the Local 172, Paynter says the last year and a half has felt the longest.
“Guys have not been able to make their fund contributions for insurance for their families because if you don’t make the hours, you don’t get the benefits and that’s been really hard on families,” he said.
Christie kept on script, touting his jobs numbers — an unemployment rate of 4.4 percent. Veering off for just a moment to push his plan that will take $300 million from Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield‘s reserve fund to pay for drug rehab for the poor.
“The spirit that we brought to this bill is the same spirit we should bring to other things like making sure that rich insurance companies in this state pay to help take care of poor, drug addicted people. We’ve got to do that,” Christie said.
So after years of uncertainty, the project list is ready to go and the governor says the money will be doled out within the next 100 days.