New Jersey Gubernatorial Election: How the Next Governor Can Meet the State’s Infrastructure Needs

New Jersey Gubernatorial Election: How the Next Governor Can Meet the State’s Infrastructure Needs

Ali Maher, director of Rutgers’ Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
Photo: Nick Romanenko, Rutgers University

Infrastructure is at the very center of our lives. It is the power we use in our homes, the water we drink, the transportation networks we rely upon, the stores we shop in and the communications systems that keep us connected with friends and family, according Ali Maher, director of Rutgers’ Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT). Rutgers Today talked to Maher about the challenges the next governor will face maintaining and improving the state’s infrastructure in the latest installment in our series on the New Jersey governor’s race.  

What do you see as the state’s most pressing infrastructure needs?

Maher: The state of New Jersey is at the center of a region with nearly 10 percent of the population and jobs in the United States, and it has a diverse critical infrastructure, which is among the oldest and most heavily utilized in the country. In 2016, the American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card gave New Jersey a grade of D+ (poor to mediocre) on the condition of its key infrastructure assets, including transportation, drinking water, wastewater, dams, levees, energy, solid waste and parks – pointing to a pressing need for improvement.

New Jersey’s infrastructure challenge is further compounded by the fact that by 2030 the state’s population, already at 9 million, is projected to increase by another 1.7 million residents with more than 1 million people being added to the workforce. Those additional people must be able to get to work and travel to meet their needs.

What can be done to address these needs and what are the consequences of delay?

Maher: Bridges, roads and transit in our state all get a share of their funding from the Transportation Trust Fund. Recent legislation allocates revenue from motor fuels taxes to transportation purposes, but it’s a temporary fix that provides funding for eight years. New Jersey’s economy relies on its transportation systems – from roads to rails – and, after 25 years of not changing how we fund, it’s time to decide on a long-term funding fix for transportation in New Jersey.  

We need to build resilient infrastructure to minimize damage from storms, floods and other disasters. Every time we start a project we should see it as an investment in the future.

The consequences of further delay in addressing infrastructure needs are many. Without planning, the state’s economy, quality of life and its ability to maintain its role as a national leader in technology and the future economy will be seriously undermined. The result: underdevelopment and gradual decay.

What should be the infrastructure priorities of the next governor?

Maher: There is a broad consensus among many stakeholders that the next governor should do the following:

  • Fast-track the Gateway project and other transit capital needs: Transit expansion is vital to spur economic investment and improve access to jobs for New Jersey residents. Transit expansion projects, such as the Gateway Hudson River tunnel, Hudson Bergen Light Rail North Branch Corridor Project and the Camden-Glassboro Rail Line, should be expedited.
  • Dedicate a funding stream for NJ Transit operations: Establish a dedicated funding stream for NJ Transit operations.
  • Increase investment in freight rail: New Jersey must increase investment in the state’s freight rail network, which would make it possible for trucks to make fewer and shorter trips to transport goods.
  • Create bicyclist and pedestrian alternatives: New Jersey must increase investment in infrastructure such as bike lanes, crosswalks and other biking and pedestrian safety features. Such measures reduce vehicle speeds and accidents between automobiles and transportation users. Communities that make these investments see economic returns.
  • Utilize technology: The state is home to a number of national academic research centers at the forefront of providing solutions to national infrastructure problems. The prominent among them are the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation and the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, both at Rutgers, and programs at NJIT and Rowan. The new administration should take advantage of such programs and effectively engage with those networks.