Before the coronavirus pandemic struck our nation, South Jersey was getting back on its feet economically. Unfortunately, not all parts of New Jersey bounced back so quickly from the recession of years past and the closing of several casinos in Atlantic City made the road back that much longer. Now, in our post-COVID-19 future, South Jersey is going to have to work twice as hard to become the emerging leader it can be.

Investments in our critical infrastructure stimulate the long-term growth and sustainability of our local and state economy, improve access to our region's assets, and promote business development. It is for those reasons, and many more, that the Southern New Jersey Development Council (SNJDC) supports the proposed capital plans for both the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA) and South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA).

A safe and reliable transportation system to move people and goods is paramount to providing the quality of life we expect and demand, but it does not come without a cost.

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New Jersey has not increased its investment in the New Jersey Turnpike (NJT), Garden State Parkway (GSP), or Atlantic City Expressway in many years, and it is beginning to show. The infrastructure investments outlined in the proposed plans will include $24 billion in construction on the NJT and GSP, as well as critical upgrades along the entire AC Expressway that will help pave the way to innovation hubs like the National Aviation Research & Technology Park in Atlantic County.

The AC Expressway crosses Atlantic, Camden and Gloucester counties, serving as a primary roadway in southern New Jersey that many use for travel between the Shore and the suburbs of Philadelphia. As you can imagine, safe and easy travel on this roadway is imperative to maintaining a steady flow of cash throughout the Greater Philadelphia region - cash flow that will be even more vital to the economic recovery from the current health crisis.

Funds will also go toward the SJTA's participation in extending the South Jersey Light Rail from Camden to Glassboro. That project will make mass transit more convenient to hundreds of thousands of South Jersey residents yearly by connecting residents to NJTRANSIT, PATCO, Amtrak, and the River Line. If you live or work in South Jersey, you can appreciate the benefits these upgrades will bring.

SNJDC represents organizations spanning 30 different types of businesses, including casino/gaming industry development, education, engineering, health care, transportation, and tourism. All of our members not only benefit from these critical infrastructure upgrades; they will need them to get back on their feet following the financial concerns stemming from the current health crisis.

And as the current pandemic has proven, the need to support business development and encourage domestic manufacturing is critical, especially during times of crisis. South Jersey is well positioned to cultivate that industry – creating good jobs and spurring economic growth throughout the region. However, without updated infrastructure, the travel of goods and employees becomes more difficult and, in some cases, dangerous. Which is yet another reason why New Jersey must move forward with the proposed capital plans.

As we continue to combat the coronavirus pandemic, we strongly urge the Governor and his administration to stand fast in their plan to support upgrading New Jersey's critical infrastructure. Year after year, we watch our state crumble before our eyes. Now is the time to put New Jersey's residents back to work. Why not build or fix our infrastructure while we’re at it?

The SNJDC actively supports initiatives that promote economic opportunities for our members and our region, and we believe these proposed capital plans will do just that. New Jersey needs these upgrades, and we need them now. Let's do right by our businesses and those that make South Jersey their home and allow these projects to move forward.

Jane Asselta is Vice President of the Southern New Jersey Development Council, a member-based economic development organization representing the public and private sectors of the southern eight counties of the state.