On Sept. 24, the New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee will kick off the first in a series of public hearings to explore ways to replenish the state's Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), which provides money for road and bridge projects throughout the state. 

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The TTF is nearly bankrupt, and unless something is done to address that, the state will soon be forced to use all of the fund's money to pay down debt with nothing left over to build and repair roads and bridges.

"Our transportation infrastructure in New Jersey is in horrible shape and there's absolutely no money left to pay for any improvements. If we do nothing, we do so at our own peril. We put jobs at risk. We put lives at risk. We make the roads less safe," said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville), chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee.

Finding ways to make the state's transportation system more efficient will be a key focus of the hearings.

Wisniewski said one idea that must be part of the discussion is merging the state Department of Transportation with other transportation authorities and agencies. He said  ultimately the state needs to look at what the dollar amount is that its needs every year to maintain a sustainable program.

"They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. For the last 20 years we've been coming back and doing a series of five-year extensions on the TTF and then we're amazed at the end of the five years that we've got to go back and do it all over again," Wisniewski said.

The possibilities of  hiking the gas tax or imposing a mileage tax are likely to be proposed at the hearings.

"We're a long way from having that ultimate discussion," Wisniewski said. "I think revenue sources of all kinds will have to be discussed. You can't build the roads we need, you can't repair the bridges we need without money."

Two-thirds of New Jersey's roads are in poor or mediocre quality and 36 percent of the state's bridges deficient or obsolete, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.  It estimated that Garden State drivers pay $601 per year in added car repair costs.

Wednesday's hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. at Montclair State University. The second hearing is scheduled for Oct. 14 for 10 a.m. at Rutgers University. Future hearings have yet to be scheduled.