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Roads, Rails Discussed At NJ Assembly Budget Hearing

How are your tax dollars being spent on the state’s roads and rails?

Flickr User KimCarpenter NJ

The Assembly Budget Committee held hearings on transportation with officials from the state Department of Transportation, the Motor Vehicle Commission and New Jersey Transit.

Jim Weinstein, NJT’s executive director said that rising gas prices are having an impact on the state’s public transportation system.

“Every time the price of fuel increases by one cent, the NJ Transit budget grows by $370,000.”

Weinstein said they have reduced staff through attrition and changed filters in New Jersey Transit buses which allow them to switch to lower-grade fuel during the more expensive winter months.

“We have and continue to look for ways to do more with less.”

Despite the rise in fuel prices, Weinstein reassured the panel that fares will remain steady. “I will use this opportunity to again emphasize there will not be a fare increase for the upcoming fiscal year.”

State DOT boss Jim Simpson said the state’s roads and bridges will be getting some much-needed upgrades and improvements under the Governor’s budget proposal.

“$685 million will go towards bridge repairs including the spans in Ocean County at LBI, $311 million for repaving roads, and over $300 million for local aid projects.”

MVC Chief Ray Martinez outlined the state’s new driver’s license renewal program which he said should kick off this summer.

Residents born on or before Dec. 1, 1964 with licenses or other IDs expiring starting in July 2012 will be able to “skip the trip” to MVC offices, said MVC Chief Ray Martinez, during testimony at the Assembly Budget Committee today in Trenton.

“The move is expected to eliminate one million customers from standing in line at motor vehicle agencies throughout the state” said Martinez.

He said the move, which will take place over the next several years, will make it easier for the state to transition to a stricter ID system as required by federal law.

Residents born after Dec. 1, 1964, will be subject to the law’s enforcement date of Dec. 1, 2014.

“Our new mail renewal system will have an impact on security at the MVC. With the ability to offer mail renewals to a specific segment of the population, we will be able to better manage customer volume at our agencies as we begin the move to the new federal ID ” said Martinez.

Some legislators questioned if the Christie administration’s budget proposal relied too heavily on borrowing.

“The governor’s plan takes resources that were supposed to be used for a new commuter rail tunnel project and supplements that with new borrowing and no plan to pay the increased debt. It appears more and more as though the governor simply canceled the tunnel so he wouldn’t need to devise a responsible transportation plan” said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen).

“The general fund appropriations are where we are going to get this money, that’s where the debt will be paid from” said Simpson.

“It is my concern that essentially we have developed an interest rate credit habit” said Schaer.

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