BORDENTOWN TOWNSHIP — New Jersey expects to launch scores of road and bridge projects and mass transit improvements during the next 100 days, thanks to the infusion of $400 million in transportation funding from the state's 23-cent gas tax increase.
In front of a large crowd of union construction workers, Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation appropriating the additional transportation spending for the current fiscal year.
"DOT is ready. The project list is done. There's something for all 21 counties across the state. Everyone is going to see an improvement from this in every corner of the state of New Jersey. What that means is you all will be working in every corner of the state of New Jersey, too," Christie said during the bill-signing ceremony, drawing cheers and applause from workers at the Laborers' International Union of North America hall in Bordentown Township.
The new law appropriates $260 million for road and bridge projects and $140 million for NJ Transit improvements.
The approved projects include resurfacing of stretches of Interstate 295 in Mount Laurel; Route 68 in Mansfield; and Routes 73, 70, 130 and 90 in Cinnaminson, Delran, Evesham, Palmyra, Pennsauken and Voorhees, according to a list provided by the Governor's Office and state Department of Transportation.
The list of NJ Transit projects includes funding for an environmental impact study for the proposed light-rail system between Camden and Glassboro, Gloucester County, and for developing a redesign of the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden, which is a stop for both the PATCO train running through South Jersey to Philadelphia, and for the Camden-to-Trenton River Line.
The supplemental spending is in addition to $1.6 billion in transportation projects already approved in the state's 2017 fiscal year budget.
Christie asked the Democratic-controlled Legislature to approve the extra spending during his annual budget address last month, and lawmakers were quick to comply. The measure was approved by the Senate on March 13 and by the Assembly on Thursday.
Ray Pocino, a leader with the laborers union, said the funding would provide employment for thousands of construction workers and an immediate boost to the state's economy.
"It kick-starts the program now," Pocino said about the funding. "Those thousands of jobs will affect our friends, families and neighbors, but more importantly, members of the construction trades, contractors, engineers, insurance brokers, lawyers, bankers, you name it. The construction dollar far reaches into the economy."
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-32nd of Secaucus, and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd of West Deptford, also touted the expected job growth and infrastructure improvement.
"This is all about jobs, invigorating our economy and public safety," said Prieto, who attended the ceremony with other legislative leaders.
"The funding increase will help improve the quality of life for our families and commuters at the same time it gives a needed jolt to the economy by putting our hardworking New Jerseyans back to work,” Sweeney said. “We are acting quickly and decisively to improve our transportation system and the state’s economy.”
The funding comes from the state Transportation Trust Fund, which was renewed last fall with an influx of revenue from the 23-cent gas tax increase. The hike was the first time the state's gas tax was raised in 28 years, and marked the end of months of negotiations and debate over both the gas tax increase and a mix of tax cuts to accompany it.
The disagreement resulted in a shutdown of scores of ongoing and shovel-ready transportation projects and the layoff of thousands of construction workers.
Christie and lawmakers eventually reached an agreement on a gas tax hike paired with other tax reductions, including a boost in the earned-income tax credit for the working poor, phase out of the estate tax, and an increase in the retirement tax exemption for seniors. It also included a $3,000 deduction for veterans and a small reduction in the sales tax.
Christie, who is in his final year in office, said the bipartisan agreement was a compromise that will benefit the state for years to come. Since the trust fund renewal is expected to last the next eight years, it also spares the next governor from having to wrestle with the issue during his or her first term, he said.
"We needed to make sure we took more of the politics out of this business, because building roads, building bridges, resurfacing roads, resurfacing bridges and building train systems isn’t a Republican or Democrat idea," the governor said. "Republicans, Democrats, independents and everybody else rides on those roads and rides on those trains. Now, they don’t care who’s taking the credit; they just want it done, and this plan helps to get it done. So that’s the first time in history that we have that."