TRANSPORTATION

Lawmakers call for transportation overhaul at budget hearing

The transportation officials painted a picture of NJ Transit as an agency with a labor shortage. Currently there are about 11,000 employees, 426 vacancies, and the Murphy budget calls for filling those and hiring 114 more.

Acting Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, who chairs the NJ Transit board, warned that more retirements are in the pipeline for next year.

NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett asked for understanding.

“We know that our problems took years to make and few will be solved overnight. But with the support of Gov. Murphy, the help of this Legislature and the patience of our customers, we will get this job done,” Corbett said.

The Transportation Trust Fund was another topic. It will spin off $2.2 billion in the next budget year. A record $490 million of that will go directly to local transportation projects. And $507 million will come from the budget in so-called pay-as-you-go funds.

“For me personally, in 28 years in this industry, it’s very important that we start to switch our process from full borrowing to pay as you go,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “As you all know, there’s $19 billion of Transportation Trust Fund debt as we sit here today. when you look at the eight year program, it actually starts to slow pay-as-you-go, but my job over the course of the next several months would be to see if we can put ourselves on a glide path to increase pay as you go.”

Sen. Troy Singleton brought up positive train control and the December deadline for installing the new safety technology required by federal rail officials.

“This isn’t an indictment on anyone, but the positive train control, based on that legislation that was passed federally a few years back, is critically important for commuters,” Singleton said.

“It is the single largest priority right now of NJ Transit. We understand the safety issue, and I think to the extent that we can get as far as we can get by December, we will,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz asked Sue Fulton, the acting head of the Motor Vehicle Commission, about driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

“There are 12 states and the District of Columbia that grant driver-only licenses to undocumented individuals,” Fulton said. “We’re looking to see what we can learn from those states’ experience. I will say personally that given our mission to keep New Jersey drivers safe, part of our mission is to do that, that we’re safer when the drivers who are on our roads are trained, tested, licensed and insured.”

This was a largely friendly hearing. Senators of both parties said how comfortable they were with Gutierrez-Scaccetti as DOT commissioner, and there’s widespread agreement the state needs a transportation overhaul like the one Gov. Phil Murphy is proposing.