LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Officials Call for Reauthorization of Federal Highway Trust Fund

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

This bridge in Perth Amboy was built in 1960.

Today it’s one of 2,300 structurally deficient bridges in New Jersey.

Democratic politicians and transportation advocates invited the press here to call for a reauthorization of the federal Highway Trust Fund, which expires on May 31.

The bridge is on the state’s schedule for repair this year.

“I’m not saying it won’t be done if we don’t have a reauthorization, but like any project, if the reauthorization doesn’t occur by May 31, that funding is in jeopardy, unless the state wants to do it on its own and not rely on the federal funds unless they have some federal funds left over,” said Congressman Frank Pallone.

Sen. Bob Menendez said Republicans in Washington prefer short-term extensions of six or months or so, when in the past federal highway bills extended five or six years.

“Having a full five or six year federal highway or mass transit bill so that we can plan out the type of infrastructure we need, so that we can begin fully the Gateway project, because you can’t by patches ultimately plan out a transportation system, you can’t start big projects if all you know is you have funding until December,” Menendez said.

Concern here about the federal Highway Trust Fund coincides with dismay that the state Transportation Trust Fund no longer has secure funding.

“We in New Jersey need to work very hard to raise the necessary funds, to stop talking timidly about maybe one day finding a transportation funding source, to recognize that we need to raise the motor fuels tax, to recognize that it is a modest increase that will pay huge dividends,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, New Jersey ranks sixth in the nation in the percentage of its bridges structurally deficient.

“This bridge which we’ve talked about this morning connects these two roads that connect to that bridge that connects to the Parkway, that connects to the Turnpike, that connects to the ports and the airports. So we have a very extensive but inter-related inter-modal system, and just like any connected system, we are only as good as our weakest link,” said NJ LECET Director Joseph McNamara.

Despite his recent indictment on misconduct charges, Menendez goes about his business as if nothing has changed. A new poll out today on the public’s attitude towards the indictment gives a mixed picture.

“I don’t care about polls. The only poll I care about is gonna be the one when I’m found innocent,” he said.

It’s becoming a common refrain. New Jersey and the nation have to do something about infrastructure. Press conferences raise awareness. Action seems harder to come by.