Christie's promised $400M in spending for roads, rails close to final OK

Larry Higgs, NJ Advance Media for

Gov. Chris Christie's proposal to pump $400 million into state transportation projects this fiscal year is a signature away from reality.

The idea that Christie proposed during his budget address on Feb. 28 now goes to his desk after being approved by the state Assembly Thursday.

The Assembly approved a revised bill Thursday by a vote of 67 to 3, with four members abstaining. It allocates $260 million for roads and bridges and $140 million to NJ Transit projects. It brings the fiscal year 2017 expenditure of money for projects from the Transportation Trust Fund to a total of $2 billion for the year to tackle the backlog of projects.

"I think accelerating the expenditure of TTF funds is a good thing, as it's in accord with the program goal of $2 billion per year," said Martin Robins, director emeritus of the Voorhees Transportation Institute at Rutgers. "I would feel more comfortable with this bill, if the administration had been required to identify how the money would be used."

Robins said NJ Transit would likely use its share to comply with a federal deadline of Dec. 2018 to make a safety system known as Positive Train Control operational.

Assemblymen John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, along with Jay Webber, R-Morris and Erik Peterson, R-Hunterdon, voted against it. The bill allocates a total of $400 million from the Transportation Trust Fund for fiscal year 2017.

A similar bill approved by the state Senate in March was amended to include funding for NJ Transit.

The infusion of funds takes some of the burden off municipal and county taxpayers, which might have had to match state funds for local projects, said State Senator Steven Oroho, R-Sussex, a sponsor of the Senate bill.

"This funding bill can get many of these projects moving forward without burdening local property taxpayers," he said in a statement.

Democratic Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, D-Bergen and Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Hudson, sponsored the Assembly legislation and called it a jobs bill.

"We're going to see wide-ranging job and economic benefits for years to come from our new infrastructure improvement plan, but with this bill we'll be getting an even earlier start than expected," Prieto said in a release. "That's nothing but good news for New Jersey commuters and laborers and our economy."

In his address, Christie said the $400 million would address "bridge deficiencies and the state of good repair for roads in all 21 counties." Christie said funds would be spent to "expedite" technology enhancements and other infrastructure improvements for NJ Transit.