Latest Jersey Road Closures a Sign of Urgency, Political and Structural

By David Cruz

Crews were out this morning making emergency repairs on a stretch of Route 46 in Clifton, shutting down a lane. Over in Hasbrouck Heights, the overpass — almost 80 years old — is showing its age. Crews will shut down a lane of Route 17 to affect repairs. The impact on traffic during rush hour? A necessary evil in these days of heightened infrastructure insecurity. Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox said this week restoring our roads and bridges just makes dollars and sense.

“Companies in this state need to know what we’re doing in terms of investment, what they can plan for the future,” said Fox Wednesday. “Businesses often plan five to 10 years down the road. They need to know if the infrastructure of the state is going to plan for five or 10 years down the road, so they can plan accordingly.”

This is the fifth time in a month that the Department of Transportation has ordered some kind of emergency action on a piece of Jersey infrastructure. Fox has also ordered inspections of 40 state bridges determined to be in need of emergency work.

The general consensus is that New Jersey bridges and roads are falling apart. But it’s also true that this is not a recent phenomenon, which is begging the question among some people about whether or not this emphasis on emergency repairs might have a little something to do with ongoing negotiations over the Transportation Trust Fund, which could include a gas tax increase.

“Let’s make no bones about it. The commissioner wants a gas tax increase. It’s the only thing he’s ever called for. It’s what he called for in his first time around when he was commissioner of the DOT and the way to do that, in his eyes, is putting pressure on hard-working New Jerseyans and making it more difficult for them to get to and from work,” said Daryn Iwicki, state director
of Americans for Prosperity, New Jersey. “There’s a healthy dose of skepticism by the public and ourselves at AFP as to this being politically motivated.”

Assemblyman Tom Giblin said that’s not entirely off base. “I guess there’s a certain element as far as that’s concerned. My sense, though you talk to mayors around the state, they’re crying out for additional municipal aid to try to deal with their road infrastructure,” he said. “Everybody’s sensitive because this is an election year for the full Assembly and people in marginal districts are concerned that this could be their death knell.”

Which could explain why — at a panel discussion this week — some Republican lawmakers said they wouldn’t support a gas tax hike. Political? Probably. But, scenes like this could be the kind of political cover an elected official might use to justify a tax hike in an election year.