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How does NJ decide which road projects will get funded?

Road construction sign.
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In the next few months, New Jersey lawmakers are expected to approve a plan to create a commission that would give final approval for road, bridge and rail projects funded by the Transportation Trust Fund.

The four-person panel would include the commissioner of the Department of Transportation and three others selected by the governor and legislative leaders.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney said this would be very helpful because “every year we get the projects when we do the budget, they just give us a list — we don’t know if they’re done in priority or [if] these are the most pressing needs of the state.”

He pointed out when the DOT presents this project list, it’s unclear if the projects they’re outlining are the most pressing work that needs to be done, “or are they being done because a senator or someone asked?”

“We really don’t know. So we really wanted to have an idea and be part of it since we’re approving the budget.”

Road projects presented to the Capital Program Approval Committee by the DOT would need unanimous approval by members of the panel to get the go-ahead.

Sweeney stressed the idea is not to undermine the DOT.

“We’re not saying they did anything wrong. It’s just a matter of having a better understanding of how we’re moving forward and spending our transportation dollars,” he said.

“There’s a great need in New Jersey to make the right investments with limited dollars, and we should be maximizing those investments.”

During a recent meeting of the Senate Budget Appropriations Committee, state Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, announced the Office of Legislative Services has determined the creation of this kind of committee would actually be unconstitutional because it would grant lawmaking powers to those who would sit on the panel.

When asked about this, Sweeney shook his head.

“It’s constitutional. We have a legal opinion that shows it’s constitutional,” he said.

“Sen. Beck is running for re-election in a very competitive race and she’s doing a lot of things to make a lot of noise right now.”

He said the bottom line is this committee should be created by the Legislature.

“We should know why we’re appropriating dollars for projects. We really shouldn’t just be a rubber stamp and say OK.”

Even if the Legislature does pass the TTF cleanup bill before breaking for summer vacation at the end of June, decisions made by the panel would not take effect until 2019.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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