No gas tax, so here’s 900 transportation projects Christie’s shutting down
Gov. Chris Christie’s administration has identified more than 900 state, county and local construction projects slated to be shut down by the end of Friday, for at least a week, after the governor and state lawmakers weren’t able to reach a deal on transportation funding.
In all, more than 1,400 contracts are subject to being suspended, once development, engineering, design, planning and other work are included at both the Department of Transportation and New Jersey Transit.
It appears that some of the projects listed might avoid being shut down, said Janna Chernetz, New Jersey policy director for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. She said the list appears to include all the projects that are solely funded through state dollars and that are therefore subject to being shut down but notes the announcement by acting Gov. Kim Guadagno says agencies should use the intervening days to assess and prioritize the list of projects to obtain the greatest effect out of the remaining TTF funds.
"It does not appear to be in any particular order, just merely identifying those that are threatened," Chernetz said.
Nearly 1,200 contracts funded through the DOT may be idled; their combined contracts are worth more than $775 million. Those include more than 750 local projects around the state supported by state grants, in approximately 440 of the state's 565 municipalities. (A full list is provided at the bottom of this story.)
The big-ticket state projects on the cusp of being suspended include a $24 million project to replace bridges on Route 54 and Route 322 in Folsom, an $11.8 million project on Route 166 in Toms River and $7.6 million in dredging and channel improvements for the Shark River in Monmouth County.
Major county and local projects being held up include a $22 million project to improve the connection between Garden State Parkway’s Exit 91 and Burnt Tavern Road in Brick and a $21.7 million bridge reconstruction on Route 10 in Middletown and Red Bank.
Another 222 projects at New Jersey Transit funded through the Transportation Trust Fund may also temporarily cease. Combined, those projects are worth around $2.7 billion, with the largest being a $713 million project to purchase 772 replacement buses. (That list is also at the bottom of this story, beneath the DOT's list of impacted projects.)
The announcement made late Wednesday afternoon came nearly six days after Christie directed the Department of Transportation and New Jersey Transit to plan for an immediate, orderly shutdown of most state-funded construction.
Federally funded projects aren’t affected. Projects deemed essential for health, safety and welfare reasons are also exempt, though a list of such continuing projects wasn’t released.
“This is an unfortunate situation that re-emphasizes the need for a transportation funding solution as soon as possible. We cannot allow this to continue. Public safety and livelihoods are at risk,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Hudson.
New Jersey has financed its share of the cost for road, bridge and rail projects through the Transportation Trust Fund since the 1980s.
The TTF is a mix of pay-as-you-go spending and – increasingly, over the course of time – borrowed money that is repaid through gas taxes and other revenues. As of July 1, all of the TTF’s revenues are needed to pay off existing debt, and the fund doesn’t have permission to borrow more.
Lawmakers and Gov. Chris Christie weren’t able to reach agreement on how to replenish the TTF. A bipartisan proposal to raise the gas tax the equivalent of 23 cents a gallon got traction when it was paired with tax cuts for estates, charitable donations, retirement income and the working poor, but Christie and the Assembly scuttled that deal in favor of linking the gas tax hike to a sales tax cut.
Senators weren’t on board with that option, in part because the tax cuts would have amounted to nearly twice as much lost revenue as the original plan but also because that approach didn’t have the potential economic impact they believe would results from the more targeted plan.
And so the Senate left the Statehouse last week without voting on any plan, and the trust fund’s authorization expired.
Christie, in response, directed the Department of Transportation and New Jersey Transit to plan an orderly shutdown of transportation projects being funded through the TTF. The directive calls for an immediate shutdown but allows exceptions for safety and other reasons.
The TTF has enough cash on hand to pay for bills until around Aug. 10. Christie said the reason for shutting down work on previously authorized projects is to prioritize and attempt to extend that balance as long as possible.
The Senate is scheduled to return to Trenton for committee hearings next week, and it has a voting session scheduled for Aug. 1.
The Assembly doesn’t have any sessions on its schedule. It typically meets only sporadically, if at all, during the summer. Prieto said last week he could call a voting session with 48 hours’ notice but noted lawmakers with vacation plans are likely to be absent.
“The Assembly has acted to fund transportation, keep laborers on the job and reinvigorate our economy. All sides must work cooperatively toward finding a solution everyone can agree to so it becomes law sooner rather than later,” Prieto said.
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