How much could NJ save by merging its transportation agencies?
TRENTON — A bill under consideration in the state Senate would create a task force of public finance experts to examine whether the various groups that oversee transportation in New Jersey could possibly unify as a single entity.
State Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, said he picked up the idea from his predecessor, former state Sen. Jennifer Beck, and that it sprung from processes Beck had observed outside New Jersey.
"We talk a lot about consolidation, and this is simply just based off what Maryland and some other states have done to really study if there are ways to save money," Gopal said.
The measure to establish the New Jersey Transportation Consolidation Task Force passed unanimously in the Senate Transportation Committee on Dec. 8.
The panel would be comprised of three experts appointed by the governor, including one each from Rutgers University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, plus additional singular appointments by the state Senate President, Assembly Speaker, and the Minority Leaders in both houses.
Gopal said all fees and service costs, including insurance, incurred by the New Jersey Transit Corp., Transportation Trust Fund Authority, New Jersey Turnpike Authority, South Jersey Transportation Authority and state Department of Transportation would be evaluated.
"Sometimes when you have different entities with different insurance plans and different things, it can end up getting expensive," he said.
Gopal's bill would not force these agencies into any kind of merger at this time. Rather, it would ask the task force to submit a report to the governor with recommendations for best practices and future merger strategies.
"It'll include a detailed accounting of cost savings that can be achieved by agencies prior to consolidation, as well as additional savings that can be achieved after consolidation has happened," Gopal said.
According to Gopal, New Jersey has only the 47th-largest highway system among U.S. states.
However, he said that in 2019, the Reason Foundation's Annual Highway Report ranked the Garden State 50th in overall cost effectiveness and condition, total spending per mile, capital and bridge costs per mile and maintenance costs.
That placement is reason enough to have this conversation, the senator said.
"We've talked a lot in New Jersey about how much government we have, 600 towns, and school districts, authorities," Gopal said. "I think it is well worth at least, at minimum, looking at our transportation cost and how we are spending it."