SUMMIT, NJ - Standing just steps in front the now dormant Morris Avenue Bridge replacement project site, Summit Mayor Nora Radest, Common Council President Mike McTernan, and Hilltop City public safety officials individually and collectively called for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the State Legislators to reach a Transportation Trust Fund compromise that will restart construction.
The group of civic leaders, which included Summit Fire Chief Eric Evers, Police Lieutenant David Richel and City Administrator Michael Rogers, stood a few feet away from a banner -- hung on construction barricades -- which read "Let's Get Moving," a graphic example of the angst that Summit elected officials and residents alike feel toward the bureaucratic impasse holding the project hostage.
Her frustration evident, Radest said, "Halting construction because the Governor and our legislators cannot reach an agreement to fund the Transportation Trust Fund is unconscionable. These elected officials are derelict in their duty and we are here today to urge them to forge a compromise. Let’s get this vital project moving again."
Also on the banner is the address to a website -- finishthebridge.org -- where residents can find information on how they can engage their elected State officials
Radest added, "As the mayor of Summit, I believe it is my responsibility to speak up on behalf of Summit residents. I have spoken to our legislators, but my voice is not enough. We need to raise our voices together. We need to remind them today and every day to resolve the Transportation Trust Fund issue, and properly serve the people of New Jersey. Every time you drive by these banners, every time you need to take a detour, every time it takes you longer to get from one school to another, every time you’re late for work or an appointment, go to finishthebridge.org and tell the Governor and our legislators to get to work. Let’s raise our voices together and get moving."
The replacement work began when the bridge closed August 14, 2015, but was halted on July 8 of this year when -- on June 30 -- Christie issued Executive Order No. 210, ordering the shutdown and causing work on the 18-months-long project and as well as construction on Ashwood and DeForest Avenues to be halted.
The State Department of Transportation (DOT) and NJ Transit (NJT), on July 6, compiled and identified a list of projects funded through the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) that are subject to an orderly shutdown in the wake of the state Senate failure to act on the Assembly Transportation Trust Fund package that would have provided every New Jersey family two broad-based tax cuts that exceeded a dedicated gas tax increase proposed in the legislation.
The plan exempts projects deemed essential for the protection of the health, safety and welfare of all citizens and will not impact projects funded through federal sources. A list of projects that are funded through the Transportation Trust Fund and were subject to the orderly shutdown can be found at state.nj.us/governor.
On July 13, Summit officials and representatives from ForwardNJ -- a coalition of local businesses and organizations -- held a press conference, in the identical spot of today's announcement, calling for state legislative action to restore the state’s depleted Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) and resume work on the Morris Avenue Bridge.
That day, McTernan said, “To have this work stopped in mid-stream will place an additional undue burden on our city,. Our citizens should be treated to a higher standard of governing.”
Speaking at the same event Tom Bracken, president of ForwardNJ, said, “What New Jersey cannot afford right now is a situation where our leaders point fingers at each other and say that someone else needs to make the first move."
On August 17, Christie announced the enactment of Executive Order 213, under which the state Treasurer "is directed to make available general funds for expenses determined to be absolutely essential for the protection of the health, safety, and welfare of the people of the State of New Jersey, or that are required to ensure the receipt of federal funding, in accordance with Executive Order 210, until the Governor determines an emergency no longer exists." Since that time, no announcement has been made or information provided to City of Summit officials on what projects will be resumed under that order.
With the State Transportation Trust Fund Authority having virtually exhausted all of its available funds, Christie -- in a statement on nj.gov -- said, "No evident progress has been made by the Legislature to pass a single, viable bill to reauthorize the TTFA, A well-maintained transportation infrastructure is essential to the operation of New Jersey's economy and the people who rely upon it in all aspects of their daily lives. The current situation will persist until the Senate and the General Assembly pass an acceptable TTFA funding bill. Until they do so, the State must use money from the General Fund for emergency road, bridge, and mass transportation work.”
McTernan said the banner and the digital mechanism for citizen engagement is not just about optics.
"This is more than cosmetics, it is informational. This is a grassroots call to action asking for our elected officials at the State level to come to a solution. It is not suggesting what that solution should be, just that they should 'be adults' and come to a solution."