Consensus is pretty hard to come by in these days of over-heated rhetoric. The good news though is a New Jersey public poll shows broad agreement on one point: transportation is the lifeblood of New Jersey’s economy but promised road improvements are not being delivered. Take these findings from FDU’s recent public poll:
70% of New Jerseyans rate the state’s roads, bridges, and tunnels with the highest degree of importance to the local economy
69% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans believe infrastructure is very important to NJ’s economy,
63% believe the government is not doing enough to maintain them.
57% of Democrats and 72% of Republicans agree the state is not doing enough
Garden State Initiative (GSI) recently released "Adding It All Up: The Path to Saving $2 Billion on the Cost of New Jersey’s Roads and Bridges," which takes a critical look at government spending on our state’s network of roads and bridges. Today, New Jersey’s infrastructure is rated D+ by the American Society of Civil Engineers even though New Jersey has among the most expensive road and bridge networks in the country. And according to many ways of calculating it, we have the most expensive.
Back in 2016, $16 billion in transportation spending was authorized to fund New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund for eight years through the 23-cent increase in the state’s gas tax. In 2018, the current administration increased the gas tax another 4.3 cents to ensure that funding source remained stable to improve our infrastructure. So in 2019, the public’s disappointment and demand for better performance should be a surprise to no one. The same FDU poll confirms that when it comes to paying for future road, bridge, and tunnel improvements, few say the state needs to raise more money. Instead, 83 percent believe legislators should do a better job spending what they already have.
GSI couldn’t agree more: New Jersey can get a better return on our investments in roads and bridges.
When adjusted for the state’s population density and general costs of doing business, the results of GSI’s analysis demonstrate that we far outspend 7 peer states in the Mid-Atlantic/New England region when it comes to core transportation services per state-controlled lane mile. New Jersey spends over $238,000 per state-controlled lane mile, the highest among the states analyzed. The next expensive state, Massachusetts, spends 20% less than New Jersey.
If we were on par with the second-best among the peer group, Delaware, New Jersey would save and then be able to reinvest $1.5 billion; spending on par with the leader, Pennsylvania, would create $2 billion or 20% annually more investment capacity for our roads and bridges.
The most significant driver of New Jersey’s higher cost is the “cost of doing business” relative to other states for every kind of project or product — not just roads. Labor and land are more expensive here. After reviewing the project-level data available on various New Jersey government websites to better understand this, we filed three separate Open Public Records Act requests to obtain detailed information on project expense data. All three were denied based on the fact that the data “did not exist.” Really?
Our government is spending more money than every other state in the U.S. “because we’re New Jersey” and refuses to hold themselves accountable for our continuing poor road and bridge conditions?
GSI’s recent report offers three common-sense strategies employing best practices from other states. It maps out a path to achieve significant savings for taxpayers in order to provide funds for additional investments in modernizing our infrastructure: de-layering and consolidation of services; private public partnerships (P3s) and modernizing project planning, budgeting and scoring.
Taxpayers need to express their outrage with elected officials and say, “Not a penny more!” until meaningful action to control costs are undertaken and we get better results for those of us driving on and paying for our streets, roads and bridges.
Regina M. Egea is president of Garden State Initiative.