Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker committed to fighting for more federal resources to help modernize New Jersey’s aging transportation infrastructure.
President Biden recently unveiled his $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan that calls for investing $85 billion in transit, $115 billion for highways and bridges, $80 billion for Amtrak, plus significant transportation investments in airports, seaports, electric vehicles, and hardening infrastructure from floods and other natural disasters.
The senators announced their pledge at a news conference outside Newark Penn Station, where they were joined by New Jersey Transportation Commissioner and NJ Transit (NJT) Chair Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti and NJT President and CEO Kevin Corbett. The declarations comes after they secured approximately $2 billion in pandemic relief from the American Rescue Plan to keep NJT running in the face of unprecedented revenue losses.
American Rescue Plan
“The COVID-19 pandemic derailed mass transit budgets across the nation and here in New Jersey, and if Congress failed to pass the American Rescue Plan, workers and commuters would pay the price,” Sen. Menendez said. “But the American Rescue Plan was just that—a rescue plan. It was not a long-term solution for our nation’s outdated and crumbling infrastructure.”
Booker noted the coronavirus pandemic has had a crippling impact on nearly every aspect of the state’s economy, especially New Jersey’s transportation networks.
“I was proud to ensure the American Rescue Plan included robust federal investment in NJ Transit in order to help lay the groundwork for the economic recovery of our state while improving the quality of life for commuters,” said Sen. Booker.
NJT’s Five-Year Plan
Sens. Menendez and Booker promised to ensure federal infrastructure dollars to address New Jersey’s transportation needs and help NJT meet the goals of its $17 billion, five-year capital plan, which include:
- Advancing the Gateway Project, including the Portal North and South Bridges and trans-Hudson rail tunnels);
- Extending the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail into Bergen County and the West Side of Jersey City;
- Moving to a zero-emissions bus fleet;
- Modernizing aging train stations and rail bridges, the Newark Light Rail and Camden River Line; and
- Increasing rail capacity on several lines.
As a senior member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and the transit subcommittee, Menendez plans to use his position to ensure transit systems have greater priority in federal transportation funding. Among the programs he will look to increase funding for include the Capital Investment Grant (CIG) program, the largest federal funding source for Gateway and other large-scale projects; transit-oriented development investment; and efforts to lower air pollution by reducing congestion and harmful emissions.
Menendez stated he will do everything in his power to ensure New Jersey’s priorities are front and center in the American Jobs Plan, including full funding for the Gateway Tunnel project.
“We must complete the Gateway Project so vital to the economic future of the entire Northeast Corridor,” he said. “We must strengthen public transit options, reduce traffic congestion, and build livable communities with affordable housing and transit options that connect workers to new jobs and opportunity.”
Plugging Budget Gaps
According to NJT, the federal funding plugs a projected 13% budget gap for FY 2023, ensures the agency’s full operation without any service or personnel cuts through FY 2024, and allows it to pursue capital plans to modernize the transit system and improve travel for commuters.
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan included $30.5 billion for transit agencies, with approximately $2 billion expected to be allocated to NJT plus another $77.8 million to replace the Portal North Bridge, a key component of the Gateway Project that includes building a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel.
Had the federal aid not come through to cover steep drops in revenue due to low ridership during the pandemic, the agency was poised to shut down a substantial part of its system, including making significant cuts to weekday bus and rail service with impacts on weekends, furloughing 15%t of its workforce or 1,800 jobs, and potentially cutting even more in later years.
Beyond Mass Transit
“Bottom line, without these funds, the consequences for NJ Transit and our customers would have been dire, at a time when more and more customers will begin returning to our system, and frequent and reliable service will be more critical than ever,” said Corbett.
Beyond transit, Sens. Menendez and Booker are fighting to secure additional federal transportation funding to help address the state-of-good-repair backlog on New Jersey’s roads and bridges to make it safer for motorists. New Jersey has 502 bridges and over 3,995 miles of highway rated in poor condition, which have contributed to a 9% increase in commute times since 2011.
“Our work is not done, however. We must continue to work on long-term solutions, including the Gateway Project, to address our region’s infrastructure needs,” said Sen. Booker.