Is New Jersey spending too much on road projects?
A year and a half ago the Reason Foundation issued a report saying New Jersey was spending just over $2 million per mile on planning, constructing and maintaining its highway system, the highest figure of any state in the nation by far.
Now, the state Department of Transportation has announced the release of a new study conducted by the Rutgers University Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center that tells a very different tale..
“What they found is it costs just $183,000 per mile to plan, construct, operate and maintain one mile of roadway under the Department of Transportation’s jurisdiction,” said DOT spokesman Steve Schapiro.
The study comes as the agency is taking heat for for the behind-schedule and over- budget reconstruction of Route 35 in Ocean County. An Asbury Park Press investigation found that the project is on track to cost $27.3 million per mile. State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, has called for a state and federal investigation into the project.
The Rutgers study, released Thursday, did not address that controversy.
Schapiro said the Reason Foundation report used misleading and inaccurate calculations, and the Rutgers report backs this up.
“The Reason Foundation used a center line mile, rather than a lane mile in determining cost. A center line mile is a straight distance in one lane, from point A to point B, for one mile of road. But most highways and interstates the Department of Transportation maintains have many lanes,” he said. “In New Jersey we have approximately 3,330 center line miles, but when you add in the lane miles it’s actually more than 11,000. So when you make your calculations, they’re going to be quite different.”
Schapiro also noted the Rutgers study concluded it’s inappropriate to include the debt service on transportation bonds when making these calculation costs, something the Reason Foundation report did.
He also stressed the Rutgers report found on average 60 percent of total DOT transportation related expenditures are for activities not directly associated with planning, constructing and maintaining roads and bridges. Schapiro says a lot of the money goes to NJ Transit and debt service.
“DOT provided $330 million last year to local aid. That’s money that goes directly to counties and municipalities so they can maintain their roads.”
He said the Rutgers study shows “the DOT is committed to providing a safe and reliable transportation system throughout the state, and to do so in the most cost effective manner if possible.
"It shows the state Department of Transportation is not only being a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars, but it’s also allowing us to really identify our cost drivers and provide the department with the ability to target future efficiency as we go forward.”
Schapiro stressed “we’re always looking at what we can do to reduce costs and do things smarter:06 just looking at things we can do in a much better way. Things like value engineering, and that’s looking at the best roadway design solutions for construction and maintenance.”
Phase Two of the Rutgers study will look at tool road authority expenditures, and produce an analysis if various DOT and toll roadway and bridge projects, to order to better understand cost efficiency variation more completely.