Transportation Trust Fund closer to depletion
Despite all the talk about hammering out a deal to find a dedicated funding source for the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund, lawmakers and Gov. Chris Christie have not been able to reach an agreement yet. If no deal is reached by July 1, the TTF will officially go bankrupt and most road and bridge projects will be halted.
New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox, who has continued to stress the need for a dedicated funding source for the TTF, held a news conference Thursday, to discuss the state's crumbling transportation infrastructure, safety concerns and what needs to be done to raise revenue for transportation.
"Our first concern is for our residents and those who work and travel the roads everyday in New Jersey," he said. "But we don't have funds to repair our roads and bridges, it's reached a crisis point."
Fox said more than 200 inspectors are re-examining the state's 40 worst bridges - spans that are structurally deficient and require a "Priority One" repair.
"More bridges may have to be added to the list or weight restrictions may have to be posted for public safety," he said. "We will take the necessary actions on any day that we believe is necessary to make sure that the people who travel these roads and these bridges are protected."
Fox said good progress has been made, thanks to a robust repair and rehabilitation program for structurally deficient bridges, "but every year more bridges are added to the list, the average age of New Jersey bridges is 50 years old, with many much older than that."
So what's the solution?
When the Commissioner was asked whether he favors a gas tax increase to raise money for the TTF he agreed that some form of revenue is needed.
"I believe that we need a revenue enhancer, we need to find a way to find additional dollars whether it's that proposal or others that are being discussed," he said. "The discussions are ongoing, I am part of those discussions and I'm very hopeful that we get a resolution to this issue."
He also said he won't rule out funding sources.
"There are different ways to come up with funding, and I'm not going to rule anything in and anything out, everything is on the table as the governor has said in a number of discussions and a number of proposals. My goal is to get a revenue stream into the TTF, so I want to be careful not to rule anything in or anything out at this time," Fox said.
Fox said if no funding source is found for the TTF, money given to municipalities for transportation related projects will stop.
"If we don't have the money to give it to a town or county, then you would think that the danger of a rise in property taxes to pay for that would occur, yes," he said.
He added whether it's the gas tax or anything else, "whatever we raise the public has got to know it's going to be spent on transportation and what projects it's going to be spent on. The public has to know what we will spend the money on and why we need it."
According to Fox, whatever funding mechanism is found, it must be dedicated to transportation, either through a Constitutional amendment or legislatively.
"We have hit a brick wall, it's different than previous years because we have, after July 1, there is no money," Fox said. "But I'm very optimistic a settlement can be reached to fund the TTF- there are people of good faith on both sides of the isle - everyone acknowledges there is a problem and I'm very confident we will get this done."
See Gov. Chris Christie discussing the possibility of a gas tax hike during the Jan. 15 edition of Ask The Governor on NJ 101.5.