By Briana Vannozzi
There are few better ways to entice reporters to talk transportation funding on a summer afternoon than with a boat ride. Top Senate Democrats toured the Port Newark Harbor, emphasizing their plan to renew the Transportation Trust Fund. Newark is the second busiest port in the nation. Billions of dollars in investments here will double incoming cargo freight.
“They get 600 million containers a year — they need to be able to move them. And we’ve made that investment in the Bayonne Bridge, now we need to make the investment on land so we can move these containers,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
The tour went from Liberty State Park to Arthur Kill. That’s were dredging to deepen the channel from 35 to 50 feet is underway. The Panama Canal expansion has meant larger vessels, including Panamax super freighters, are now in use. And the senators argue we need investments like raising the Bayonne Bridge to stay competitive.
“It’s $92 by truck to move a container and it’s $10 by rail. Now we need to be competitive with other ships in the South. There’s a war to see who gets these ships and we’re in a high labor market to start with. So to invest in infrastructure to bring our costs down, we’re talking millions of dollars just by making a smart investment on the back end,” Sweeney said.
“We’ve got to be able to efficiently move the product from ship to land to Amazon distributors or wherever it’s going,” said Sen. Sandra Cunningham.
The Bayonne Bridge, which is being raised by 64 feet, is considered a major obstacle to accommodating larger ships in Newark Bay.
“It’s all interconnected and a lot of it starts right here and we have to tell the people we represent why this is so important and why the investment in our infrastructure not only makes us safer and more economically viable, but it reflects on our whole nation,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg.
The senators are backing a 10-year, $20 billion transportation plan. It calls for raising the gas tax by 23 cents and phasing out the estate tax, among other items. But it’s up against fierce opposition.
“They all realize this needs to be done. I look at this way — when both sides are hollering at you, you’ve got a good product,” Sweeney said.
With the governor sending mixed signals about his support for this transportation plan and counterattacks from the other side of the aisle, it’s still unclear if the fund will be replenished before the deadline is up, or if it will sink.