Last year’s gas tax hike doesn’t provide New Jersey the funds it needs to address its transportation needs, says a Fund for New Jersey report issued Wednesday that recommends the next governor think about new tolls or higher Motor Vehicle Commission fees.

Authors of the latest in the series of Crossroads NJ reports concede such options aren’t popular, but they say such moves are needed for the state to pay for the Gateway rail tunnel under the Hudson River, replace the Port Authority Bus Terminal, stop using capital funds for operating costs at NJ Transit and forge a path for future technologies like driverless cars.

“This report is like an alarm bell that there are a lot of things that have gone wrong and a lot of key issues that are on the table right now that need attention,” said Martin Robins, director emeritus of Rutgers University’s Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Institute.

“It is not going to pay for anywhere like the number of projects that people have anticipated,” Robins said of the nearly 23-cent a gallon gas-tax hike. “That’s worrisome. So we really need to look very methodically at what we would like to get done and what it would take to get that done.”

The report says the state could save money and streamline engineering by folding its toll-road authorities into the Department of Transportation. And it calls for the state to do a better job of disclosing, though an online tool, how it spends its construction money.

It also outlines some revenue-raising options, such as higher driver’s license and registration fees, additional taxes on real-estate transactions or business payrolls like those imposed by the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority or mileage fees to replace the gas tax.

Former Gov. Jim Florio, a trustee for the philanthropic group, said the state could also justify using revenues gained if it rejoins the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative cap-and-trade program for the Gateway tunnel, saying there’s an environmental benefit to emphasizing trains rather than cars.

“We’ve got to stop being condescending to the citizens, thinking they can’t handle the truth,” Florio said. “The truth of the matter is there probably isn’t sufficient public monies to deal with all the needs that we have for our transportation systems.”

Florio said public-private partnerships can help pay for some needed projects. He said the state needs to pay for one-fourth of the Gateway program, which is projected to cost over $24 billion, but that money from the gas-tax hike is being used to repay past debts or were directed toward specific purposes, such as local aid or NJ Transit.

“So you’re talking about raising another $5 billion. That’s just unreal. It’s not going to happen. You’ve got to go to Plan 2,” Florio said.

Robins isn’t a fan of one of the report’s suggestions – privatizing toll roads. But he says interstate highway tolls could be seen as an acceptable user fee.

“Tolling is going to be on the agenda within the United States and maybe even in New Jersey again because it is a reasonably equitable way to raise funds for transportation,” Robins said.

Florio said people would be initially opposed to taxes or tolls but are mature enough to understand options, if they’re engaged in the kind of analysis by elected officials.

“Nothing is for nothing, and you get what you pay for. And in the transportation sector, we’re getting what we’re paying for – which is not paying enough, and the transportation system leaves a lot to be desired,” Florio said.

“If you don’t like the cost of transportation, wait until you find out the problems of gridlock,” he said. “Congestion that’s now starting to be economically problematic and eating into productivity. You’re not going to like the tunnel collapsing or a bridge falling down.”

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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