For decades, New Jersey has been kicking the can down the road with regard to infrastructure. Well, as of now even that road is in such bad shape, that the can can’t be kicked any further.
The American Society of Civil Engineers gave New Jersey a failing grade of D+. Almost 10% of our bridges are “structurally deficient”. The same for about 42% of our roads. Water systems, NJ Transit, and wastewater systems all exhibit similar deficiencies. Folks, the Garden State is falling apart.
Question: What does New Jersey do to stem the tide of our failing infrastructure, and how do we pay for it?
Our infrastructure systems – roads and bridges to water and wastewater management systems – are in great peril, endangering all citizens.
As our infrastructure ages, it deteriorates. As it deteriorates, the cost of maintaining it skyrockets. As it skyrockets, we’re making the terrible mistake of using capital investment dollars that would have expanded and improved the system to maintain it. That’s a short-term recipe for disaster.
Couple our predicament with the raging climate change debate, our infrastructure needs to be a priority.
Stemming the tide of our failing infrastructure starts with leadership, from the President and 50 Governors and State Legislatures on down to senior management levels within, for example here in New Jersey, the Departments of Transportation (DOT) and Environmental Protection (DEP).
New Jersey's challenge with respect to infrastructure isn’t exceptional, however. All 50 states have their challenges.
Never one to pass the buck, but . . . State governments CANNOT do this on their own, not without brutalizing taxpayers with more taxes and fare/toll hikes. The federal government MUST step up and partner with state governments on funding a grand plan specific to infrastructure.
A federal trillion-dollar public infrastructure investment plan would also be a phenomenal jobs program that pays for itself. The time is now.
It may be hard to believe, there isn’t even a consensus on the state of our infrastructure. Last year, the National Review published an article entitled “The Myth of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure.” It was troubling because it likened the call for investment in infrastructure to “expensive social-engineering projects.” When you see first-hand the reality that a lack of prior investment in infrastructure leads to undrinkable water and unmanageable commutes, you know it’s not a myth.
New Jersey can lead the nation by developing a consensus on what’s broken, how we go about fixing it, and changing in the way we spend the money we do have. We can start by fixing the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) legislation that will cause NJ to run out of transportation capital money early in the next decade. New Jersey doesn’t have to shoulder the burden alone. The federal government has a role to play. The federal gas tax that has been stagnant since 1993 and its value has decreased by 65% due to inflation. That has to change.
An old adage says that if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Similarly, when we find our infrastructure is crumbling, we ought to spend more money to better maintain it. While New Jersey is a leader nationally in spending a majority of its annual transportation capital spending on repairing as opposed to expanding infrastructure, there needs also to be an increase in operational funds - not just capital funds. Whether it’s a water system, a transit organization or a transportation department, having sufficient day to day resources to maintain the system will go a long way to maximizing the effectiveness of the capital dollars we do have.