State to grant funds for transportation projects

With Gov. Chris Christie administration's proposed Fiscal Year 2012 (FY 12) Transportation Capital Program, the state will allocate $3.5 billion to New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) and New Jersey Transit investments.
The Christie administration announced Thursday that the FY 12 Transportation Cap Program has been submitted to members of the legislature for review and if passed, Middlesex County will receive more than $175 million for 20 projects under the proposed $3.5 program, according to the NJDOT press release.

"This capital program balances the reality of limited resources with the twin imperatives of promoting public safety and maintaining our assets in a state of good repair," said NJDOT Commissioner James Simpson in the release. "Every investment to improve a road or bridge or railroad today helps us avoid far more costly repairs tomorrow."

The FY 12 capital program represents the first year of a five-year Transportation Capital Plan that Christie announced in January, according to the release.

Middlesex County projects include the Hoes Lane extension to I-287, Route 18 and South Woodland Avenue intersection improvements and constructing a Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital parking facility, according to the release.

In an effort to improve New Jersey's fiscal health by prioritizing projects, decreasing borrowing and increasing pay-as-you-go cash funding, the money comes from state and federal grants, said Tim Greeley, NJDOT spokesman.

"The federal government allocates a large percentage of money to all the states in the country and New Jersey's share is $1.66 billion," Greeley said.

State funding comes from New Jersey's Transportation Trust Fund, which is funded from Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike tolls, gas taxes and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey sources, he said.

The state funding amounts to $1.6 billion, Greeley said.

The $3.5 billion dollars, which is allocated throughout the state, is for fiscal year 2012 and runs from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, he said. This money will not go directly to the counties but will be managed by NJDOT.

N.J. Transit will also receive $1.164 billion total from state and federal grants, which will be used to fund preventive maintenance, local programs and debt service, according to release. Some of the projects include railroad signal system upgrades, track replacement projects and the replacement of almost 1,400 transit-style buses.

"What the Christie administration has done and continues to do is focus the money on near-term improvements and take money that's actually available and put it towards projects that are progressing and ready instead of borrowing against future loans," Greeley said.

Because the number of worthy projects in the state always exceeds available resources for a given year, NJDOT is forced to prioritize projects for funding allocations, he said.

"[NJDOT] track[s] the age and condition of all of our roads and bridges here in the state, and based upon that and other data that we track, we make decisions about when to advance the project," Greeley said.

The 20 projects in Middlesex County ranked high enough within their respective area, whether it were roads and bridges, pedestrian safety or local aid, to be considered a priority, he said.

 "Looking at it from a cost-effective point of view, it does make more sense to rehabilitate and repair what we've already got," Greeley said. "Building new infrastructure is inherently more expensive anyway."

Greeley said a normal construction project typically lasts a year or two depending on the size, severity and phase of the project.

"All these projects fit within that five-year plan because [the projects are] getting money now," Greeley said. "Whatever the phase, it means we're advancing these projects whether or not that construction physically begins within the next five years."

School of Arts and Sciences junior Ani Patel said the FY 12 Transportation Capital Program would help New Jersey since the money is in the form of grants not loans.

"I think Gov. Christie is doing a good thing," he said. "I like New Jersey roads. I don't have a problem with them, but I think a lot of the local roads need a lot of work, especially after this winter."

School of Arts and Sciences junior Kelly Nishikawa, originally from La Crescenta, Calif., said she thinks local roads do need improvement, but New Jersey's highway system is in better shape compared to California's.

"New Jersey highways and the N.J. Turnpike are in pretty good shape compared to California's, but some of the residential roads here are in bad shape," she said.

Greeley said the FY 12 Transportation Capital Program is the highest amount of overall funding that the state has ever dedicated to specifically improving existing highways, roads and bridges.
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