Federal Highway Funding Offers Short-Term Fix for NJ Roads

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Federal highway funding is safe for the next 10 months, but that’s all.

The New Jersey congressional delegation yesterday voted 9 to 2 in favor of stopgap funding.

Only conservative Scott Garrett and liberal Rush Holt voted no.

Holt wants to see long-term funding.

“It’s just another example of our failure to govern. We often use the word ‘punting.’ This is dodging a problem,” Holt said.

President Obama wanted $300 billion over four years.

“First class infrastructure attracts first class jobs and right now our investments in transportation are lagging the rest of the world,” Obama said.

The House of Representatives, by 367 to 55, approved $11 billion through next May.

At the New Jersey Alliance for Action, an infrastructure advocacy organization, President Phil Beachem says it’s better than nothing but still just a short-term fix.

“We will be back next year, depending on what the Senate does and we’ll be at it again. It is very difficult for any state much less the country to implement a cohesive transportation policy or plan when you are constantly trying to find out whether you’re going to have long-term funding to do it,” Beachem said.

New Jersey has 1,300 highway and bridge projects dependent upon federal funding.

Turnpike and Parkway widening are financed by tolls and not dependent on federal aid, but maintenance on the interstates is.

The good thing, says Beachem, is that mass transit is included in the bill despite the efforts of some to de-couple it.

The funding will come from delays in business pension plans and higher customs fees.

“We have a crumbling infrastructure. We can’t keep pretending to fund through phony accounting gimmicks. We actually have to put money into it,” said Holt.

Beachem says it’s ironic the bill passed the day after former Congressman Robert Roe died.

“Bob Roe was Mr. Transportation, not only here in New Jersey but in the nation. He was always looking five to six years down the line in terms of developing a transportation program,” Beachem said.

“He thought that there were things we could invest in together, particularly public works, that would pay off for our quality of life in the long run,” said Holt.

The federal Highway Trust Fund is not to be confused with New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund. Both are broke. Both could use a gas tax increases, according to advocates, and until then, as the saying goes, we’re just kicking the can down the interstate.