Washington’s recent delivery of a long-term national transportation funding package may well be a gift to New Jersey’s transportation infrastructure.
Signed into law by President Obama on Dec. 4, 2015, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act is poised to provide $305 billion in funding over five years, including $5 billion for New Jersey highways alone. Beyond helping to pay for highway improvements, the funding authorized by the FAST Act will help New Jersey build and maintain bridges, transit, rail lines, freight capabilities and ports.
As the President and many others have noted, the bill is not perfect, but it is a very positive step for America’s transportation system, and laudable for many reasons. Here are just a few of the important benefits that will flow from the bill:
Greater funding predictability for states – The bill is fully funded for five years, which gives state transportation leaders a predictable flow of federal money as they envision, plan, design and build infrastructure. New Jersey can benefit from that predictability and will now be positioned to make many of the necessary investments its aging infrastructure requires from the state Transportation Trust Fund. For example, according to the Federal Highway Administration, 35 percent of bridges in the state are either “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete”. FHWA estimates it will cost $6.4 billion to make repairs on these bridges. Since New Jersey relies on federal funding for more than 50 percent of its transportation-related capital investments, the new FAST Act funding will be critically important to enable repairing these bridges.
Bolstered freight funding and strategy – New or expanded programs aim to ease the movement of freight across the nation. These include funding for improvements to interstate highways and bridges frequently used for freight, as well as to freight rail infrastructure, ports, and intermodal facilities. The bill creates a new National Highway Freight Program to create and advance a national freight policy, as well. These steps are critical to achieve greater economic growth and international competitiveness.
Acceleration of “disruptive” technologies – The new law will provide substantial grants for new technologies that can reduce traffic congestion and improve safety, specifically mentioning autonomous vehicles and collision avoidance technologies. These investments will accelerate the already brisk pace of innovation to deliver the benefits of disruptive technologies to more communities: more efficient use of existing roads, shorter travel times, and fewer road deaths. The New Jersey Turnpike Authority is already a national leader in deploying these technologies, but more funding can help deploy new, helpful technologies.
These aspects of the bill – funding predictability, a focus on freight, and inspiration for rapid innovation – represent key drivers for creating a stronger, safer transportation system in the years ahead. But, by no means does the FAST Act represent a comprehensive funding solution. The funding levels it provides are modest, and New Jersey’s existing infrastructure alone will demand ever-greater investments as deterioration of aging roads and bridges accelerates in the years ahead. Those investments will have to come from state budgets, tolls, and other funding sources.
We must meet this maintenance challenge, even as we strive to build for the future. It falls to all of us – industry experts, political leaders, state transportation officials, counties and communities – to sustain the momentum created by the new bill. With a sense of cooperation, and a commitment to even greater investments, we can enjoy the economic vitality, mobility, safety and quality of life that a world-class transportation system provides, and that New Jersey citizens deserve.
New Jersey Office Leader & Vice President, HNTB Corporation
About the author
Stephen Dilts is a vice president and New Jersey office leader for HNTB Corporation. His extensive transportation industry background includes serving terms as commissioner and deputy commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, chairman of New Jersey Transit, chairman of New Jersey Turnpike Authority and mayor and council president of Hampton, New Jersey. He serves as president of the Intelligent Transportation Society of New Jersey.