A plan to find a dedicated funding source for New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund was supposed to be finalized five weeks ago.

But as of Wednesday, no deal has been reached as lawmakers haggle over ways to replenish the fund, including a publicly unpopular proposal to raise the gas tax. Democratic leaders and Gov. Chris Christie seem further apart now than they’ve been in months.

Business and government officials say interruption of road projects will have far reaching effects on already overburdened property taxpayers, as well as the state's economy.

“It’s extremely concerning and problematic and it has an impact in municipalities and counties statewide,” said Mike Cerra, deputy executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.

He pointed out a very serious problem is now looming on the horizon that no one was even considering a few months ago.

“If there isn’t a funding source for the Transportation Trust Fund then critical (road and bridge) projects are going to be funded by you, the local property taxpayer,” he said.

Cerra said in a very real way replenishing the TTF is tax relief, because “without a sustained TTF, local governments, both municipalities and counties, really have nowhere else to turn but to the local property tax just to maintain the current status of their infrastructure.”

He also noted now that it’s August, the start of the new school year is right around the corner, but many vital projects have been halted.

“If you’re dealing with a road that has access to a public school you want that project done before September,” he said. “We are past the midnight hour, having hundreds of road and bridge projects stopped is a significant problem.”

According to Robert Briant, the CEO of the Utilities and Transportation Contractors Association of New Jersey, the fact that there’s no TTF deal has a far-reaching domino effect.

He noted more than a thousand construction workers have already been laid off —right at their peak work time of the year, and that number is expected to keep growing.

“If you are going to get by during the winter months, when you don’t have income coming in, you really need to get work done now. People are at the end of their rope,” he said.

But it’s not only construction workers who are affected.

Briant said asphalt and concrete plants and quarries are also negatively impacted by the lack of work, “and now the truckers are also being laid off and they have no jobs to deliver their materials to.

"And engineers are affected as well. All their design work is being shut down for the TTF projects. All their construction inspection all being shut down. They’re all being laid off.”

With so many projects having been halted, “there is now a growing concern about price escalations, cost escalations, labor escalations," Briant said.

He also pointed out the state is now losing millions of dollars in payroll taxes that would normally come from construction companies.

“There’s a tremendous ripple effect in our state economy. It’s affecting everybody,” he said.

Contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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