For over a decade, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (NJTA) has been operating on a dated and insufficient capital investment plan. Similarly, the South Jersey Transportation Authority (SJTA) – which owns and operates the Atlantic City Expressway – has not had a source of new, sustainable funding since 2008. And as any New Jerseyan knows, these roads are badly in need of repair.
Today’s economic and social realities are not the same as over a decade ago. New Jersey urgently needs improvements to highways, toll roads, and bridges. Even more importantly, New Jersey desperately needs to jump-start its economy as COVID-19 devastates all sectors. Infrastructure investment is the safest and most cost-effective way to do so, and the Murphy administration should move forward with the new capital plans accordingly.
The infrastructure investments in the capital plans will include $24 billion in construction on the NJT and GSP, as well as critical upgrades along the entire Atlantic City Expressway. The plan, for example, will replace or overhaul 18 bridge decks every year, allowing the state to make further headway on its backlog of structurally deficient bridges. Each of these upgrades supports the goal of increased safety, congestion relief, and improved infrastructure in a critical conduit for commercial traffic in the entire region.
While these capital improvement plans were necessary under normal circumstances, they have become even more pertinent in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout this uncertain time for our state, we must plan for what the future will hold. By greenlighting critical infrastructure improvements, New Jersey continues to be forward-thinking at a time of economic crisis.
Despite this, special interest groups in Trenton continue to challenge and stall improvements to New Jersey’s critical infrastructure. They could not be more wrong – and any delay in these capital plans will only set the state’s recovery further back, leaving New Jerseyans out of work and jeopardizing commerce in our state.
Workers in the concrete and aggregate industries recognize the need for this new funding – not just because it will create jobs for our members, but because it will benefit all New Jerseyans by seeding economic growth for years to come. We work on a variety of infrastructure systems in our state and see firsthand the positive impacts investments like these have in sustaining a wide variety of industries. This work also supports a broad supply chain of quarries, asphalt plants, trucking organizations, and other businesses, and its economic impact extends throughout those sites to other industries.
While the current health crisis has changed some aspects of the review process, all comments have been taken through written testimony and will be part of the record, as they always have been.
The Murphy Administration has recognized both the short and long-term benefits that these critical infrastructure upgrades will bring to New Jersey’s construction industry and transportation network - in turn spurring economic growth. During the most devastating financial situation since the Great Depression, we should be looking beyond the myopic views of special interests who do not support a proven catalyst for economic recovery – one that will create thousands of jobs and stimulate industries far outside of construction.
If we allow the opposition to put up roadblocks on the proposed capital programs, our state will not only see increased congestion and crumbling roads and bridges, but we will be doing a great disservice to our economy and our hard-working middle-class families and businesses. The time is now to invest in our state. We owe it to our residents, businesses, and our infrastructure.
William F. Layton is the Executive Director of the New Jersey Concrete and Aggregate Association, which represents individuals and businesses alike in the production and manufacturing of ready-mix concrete and aggregate building materials.