NJ Future Forum Tackles Redevelopment

By Erin Delmore

What’s old is new again in New Jersey’s urban centers. And that’s a challenge for the aging infrastructure that supports them.

“People are looking to move back into towns and cities and we don’t have a lot of room in our towns and cities, so that means we have to redevelop them and rethink them and reimagine them,” said New Jersey Future Executive Director Peter Kasabach.

New Jersey Future brought together 600 workers in government, real estate, energy and conservation for it’s 11th annual forum. On the docket: redevelopment in the most intensely-developed state in the nation, including the Gateway Tunnel Project, a renovated Port Authority Bus Terminal, new Light Rail lines and improvements to water infrastructure.

“It’s tough for local elected officials to take it on, though, because you don’t see it. And so it’s hard to know what the benefit is until the system breaks and your business has to shut down for the day, until your commute is wrecked because the road is flooded or until there’s lead in your drinking water,” said New Jersey Future Managing Director for Policy and Water Chris Sturm.

Senate President Steve Sweeney said not building new rail tunnels in the Hudson River would “devastate” our economy. The number of yearly passengers is expected to nearly double by 2040 to 90 million. He pointed to the threatened New Jersey Transit strike as a taste of the gridlock to come.

“You’re going to see what it would be like if the tunnels shut down. You will have total gridlock, you will have commute times three and four times as long as they are because you’ll have so many more cars on the road. It’ll absolutely, really bring the northern part of the state into a, basically a grinding halt,” Sweeney said.

Sen. Tom Kean Jr. said an investment in the state’s mass transit system is an investment in its workers and its families for decades to come.

“We want to make sure that families can afford to live in the state of New Jersey. People can afford to get to their jobs in the state of New Jersey. That higher education is more affordable in the state of New Jersey. All that ties together as a very important process to make sure that three generations of New Jerseyans can call New Jersey home,” he said.

The senators are looking to shore-up the Transportation Trust Fund, which runs out in June, leaving no money for new road, bridge and rail projects. One option that’s receiving a lot of buzz around here: hiking the state’s gas tax. At 14.5 cents per gallon, it’s one of the lowest in the nation, unchanged over the last two decades. Sen. Sweeney said he think the public would support it if it meant bringing down commute times.