Regional Plan Association President Outlines Area Challenges

Think the PATH is overcrowded now? The North Jersey building boom has spawned a population boom that threatens to push the PATH beyond its capacity. Putting the Port Authority, Jersey City and Hoboken in a scrum over who’s going to pay for upgrades to prevent a real crisis. That’s just one example of what the Regional Plan Association is contending with. It’s unveiled a comprehensive vision for the entire metro area, outlining more than a dozen major projects it considers crucial. Its president is Tom Wright. He spoke with NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams.

Williams: Thanks for being with us Tom. Let’s start with those crucial projects. What are they and why are they important?

Wright: Trans-Hudson capacity’s one of the biggest challenges facing the entire New York/New Jersey metropolitan region. More and more jobs are being created in New York City but housing and new development is occurring in New Jersey. So we have to find better ways to get more people across, under, over the Hudson River.

Williams: Your goal is to add 1.9 million jobs, right? That’s more than twice the rate under the existing changes. What’s the job growth potential for New Jersey?

Wright: This is the critical issue. We’re projecting out 25 years and we’re looking at the potential for job growth and population growth in New Jersey and again the entire metropolitan region. Right now the government agencies looking at this are projecting our growth rates to be about half over the next 25 years over what they were in the last 25 years. We’ve taken a look at those projections and then we’ve looked at the capacity in our systems and also the demand for our services. What we project is what we could continue the growth rate from now to 2040 that we’ve seen over the last 25 years but only if we have capacity in this systems. Again, that’s housing, that’s infrastructure for moving people around and it’s all the other services that we’re going to need for that kind of growth.

Williams: Under a new reality, which is climate change, do you have to increase walkability and increase use of mass transit? How do you fit that in?

Wright: Right, and of course we also have to be aware of the people living in the coastal areas. New Jersey is one of the most vulnerable states in the entire nation and has as many people or more people at risk than just about anywhere. So we have to make sure that we develop with climate change and sea level rise and stronger and more frequent storms in mind. But we can do this. We’ve seen success in communities that have figured out how to plan ahead for these challenges. We know that we’re up to the task.

Williams: But we can only do this if we have funding. Right now we don’t have funding for the Transportation Trust Fund to fix the crumbling roads and bridges we’ve already got. So are your plans pie in the sky? Is this just a great big wish list?

Wright: You know one of the things that we’ve had success with as an organization in the 20th century, we did three major plans. One each a generation apart and when we made these proposals they were ahead of the game as we like to say. They’re ideas whose time has not yet come. But when you look back now on those plans, many, many of the recommendations that we proposed came to pass. We see it as our role to kind of put in front of the public officials and decision makers and the citizens of the region these ideas because in the past people have stepped up and done these and made these investments. Really we know how to do it. Whether it’s the Transportation Trust Fund or building a new tunnel under the Hudson River, fixing the bus terminal, we know what we need to do, we just need to galvanize public support for it.

Williams: And if we don’t do it?

Wright: Then our growth rates are going to go down dramatically. We’re going to see more people living in poverty. We’re going to have more people exposed to coastal storms, flooding and dislocated from their homes. Really the choices are which direction we’re going to go but we have to make some tough choices when it comes to funding and priorities.

Williams: All right, Tom Wright thank you for your time today.

Wright: Thank you. Always a pleasure to talk to you Mary Alice.