Shocker: Returning $3B to Feds Won’t Cure Ailing NJ Transpo Budget

Governor Chris Christie put the kibosh on the ARC tunnel to Manhattan in the name of fiscal responsibility, but one month later, there’s still only bad transpo budget news coming out of New Jersey.

It seems that the state’s transportation fund is still drowning in debt and out of money to finance new projects. Returning nearly $3 billion in federal money promised for ARC didn’t exactly help matters.

New Jersey is being forced to refund $270 million to the federal government for work already completed on the tunnel. What is left of the state’s Transportation Trust Fund is promised to lenders, writes Zoe Baldwin at Network blog Mobilizing the Region. Without sufficient revenue to help leverage new borrowing, the state has few options to shore up capital funds — especially since Christie has been so adamant in his opposition to new taxes.

Baldwin takes a closer look at the situation:

New Jersey owes the federal government $270 million for work already completed on the now-dead ARC tunnel to Manhattan. Photo: New Jersey Future

As of July 1, 2011, every cent of the $895 million in incoming gas tax and other revenue which pays for transportation will go to debt service, meaning the TTF will be completely broke, without the ability to bond. Without new revenue, NJ will not have a capital plan.

With a continued 1-to-1 federal match and ARC money alone as principal,  NJ could use bonds to leverage a 5-year, $1.2 billion/year capital plan, or a 3-year, $1.9 billion/year plan. Either would be minuscule compared to New Jersey’s current level of investment; the 2010 capital program is $3.6 billion.

According to NJDOT, it will cost the state $846 million each year just to stop the spread of structurally deficient bridges, and $1 billion in capital improvements — such as track repair and new trains and buses — to bring NJ Transit into a state of good repair. Road repairs will cost additional hundreds of millions of dollars. These are goals NJ will not be able to meet with a diminished capital plan. For the average New Jerseyan, this will mean continued traffic due to slowed construction projects, dangerous intersections for drivers and pedestrians that will remain hazardous, bridges that continue to degrade and weaken, and increased NJ Transit delays caused by old wires, tracks, trains and buses.

According to Baldwin, there has been speculation that Christie killed the project in order to use the state’s $1.25 billion commitment to shore up the Transportation Trust Fund. A little over one month later, it seems that Christie will have to either cave on his anti-tax stance or abandon the state’s infrastructure. All despite sacrificing more than $6 billion in outside funding for a project that would have doubled rail capacity under the Hudson River. Under Christie, New Jersey seems ready to set a new standard for shortsightedness.

Elsewhere on the Network: A driver serving a 10-year sentence for killing a 14-year-old boy on a bicycle is suing the child’s parents for negligence because he wasn’t wearing a helmet, Grist reports. Garden State Smart Growth explores the potential benefits of matching political boundaries to watershed patterns. And Bike Friendly Oak Cliff shares a success story of how bicycle advocates helped reintroduce cycling to children at a local school.