Sweeney bridge tour comes to Burlington County

MOUNT LAUREL — New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s statewide tour of deficient bridges continued Friday with a stop at the Centerton Road bridge, which was described as the worst of over a dozen structurally deficient spans in Burlington County.

Sweeney, D-3rd of West Deptford, visited the bridge with Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, and Burlington County Board of Freeholders Director Bruce Garganio as part of his effort to bring attention to New Jersey’s crumbling infrastructure and the need to find funding for the state’s Transportation Trust Fund.

The Centerton Road structure was the fifth bridge the senator has visited in recent weeks. He said it provided more proof of the dire condition of much of the state’s crucial transportation system.

According to Sweeney's office, the bridge was built in 1903 and its sufficiency rating was the worst of any bridge in Burlington County. About 14,000 vehicles use it daily.

“The state is supposed to maintain these bridges and highways and provide funding for them,” Sweeney said in a statement. “These are the basic necessities that we have to provide as government. People have to be assured that infrastructure and transportation is safe and reliable.”

The issue of New Jersey’s poorly maintained roads and bridges is exacerbated by the impending insolvency of the Transportation Trust Fund, which is the primary mechanism used by the state to finance highway and transit projects.

The fund receives most of its revenue from the state’s gasoline tax as well as some motor vehicle fees. But after decades of borrowing, all the money from the state’s gasoline tax is now devoted to pay off debt service. Without an influx of new money, the state will be unable to finance crucial highway and bridge repairs or other capital transportation projects.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-32nd of Secaucus, and Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-20th of Elizabeth, have proposed increasing the state’s 14.5-cent gas tax to raise revenue to keep the fund solvent, but Gov. Chris Christie has vowed to block any tax increase sent to him.

So far, the Republican governor has kept the fund solvent by refinancing some of its debt and canceling the ARC Hudson River rail tunnel. But his administration has continued to add to the debt load by borrowing to pay for new transportation projects.

Sweeney hasn’t endorsed boosting the gas tax, but he has said it is one of several ideas that should be investigated. On Friday, he said it was also incumbent upon the governor to put forward a plan to deal with the fund’s impending insolvency.

“We’re going to continue to put pressure on the governor until he puts forward a plan to show us how we’re going to fund the Transportation Trust Fund,” Sweeney said. “The governor doesn’t want to address it for one reason: This is a real tough issue that’s not going to go away. But our residents deserve to know that their government is doing everything possible to keep them safe.”

Singleton said the Centerton Road bridge was a compelling example of why transportation funding was so critical.

“There has been numerous patchwork efforts on this bridge over the years, but it has not been nearly enough,” he said. “Burlington County residents can’t afford to continuously have this bridge closed for this kind of stopgap work. What we need is a plan to properly fund repairs for our roads and bridges.”

The assemblyman is a sponsor of legislation on Christie’s desk to create a transportation infrastructure bank that could attract additional federal funding and private investment dollars to provide an alternative funding source for transportation projects.

The infrastructure bank bill was passed by both houses of the Legislature with bipartisan support in June, but Christie has not taken action on it.