New Jersey roads, bridges, and commuter rails could receive $3.3 billion of funding in fiscal 2009, the same amount officials approved for transportation infrastructure costs in the current fiscal year.

Gov. Jon Corzine's proposed transportation financing plan would support Department of Transportation and New Jersey Transit Authority infrastructure projects for fiscal 2009 and aims to help counter a sluggish economy and generate jobs as the state faces estimated decreases in revenue in fiscal 2009 and current employment downturns.

Along with the proposed $3.3 billion transportation capital program, the administration released on Tuesday a 10-year financing plan for all state-wide transportation projects, with the state investing roughly $3.52 billion annually from fiscal 2009 through fiscal 2018 to help support not only DOT and NJ Transit needs, but also infrastructure improvements for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority.

The two capital plans could help the Garden State address difficult times ahead, and mitigate recessionary effects on the economy, according to the state's Transportation Commissioner, Kris Kolluri.

"The fact that the governor has proposed a $3.3 billion capital program certainly is going to help stem job losses in New Jersey," Kolluri said. "We lost 2,800 jobs in the transportation and utility sector in February, so to the extent that we can achieve two goals - one is to create jobs and the other is to create a safer, more efficient infrastructure - I think this is the right plan to achieve both of those goals."

Major changes to the Garden State's fiscal 2009 capital plan, which begins July 1, include increasing funds for bridge-repair work by roughly $100 million while decreasing financing for road improvements. Yet Kolluri said the shift in funds is necessary to address the most immediate defaults in the state's transportation infrastructure.

"Some roadway infrastructure will have to take a reduction, but that's sort of the balance we have to strike," he said. "If you look at infrastructure in order of priority, bridges have got to be the highest priority. They are for this governor and they are for me. If a mile of roadway is deteriorating, we may have potholes and we may have cracks on the road, but a structurally deficient bridge determines whether the bridge stands or falls."

While boosting funding for bridges, the financing plan would also allocate $207 million in resurfacing projects, an increase in safety programs by $108 million, $507 million for state of good repair projects at NJ Transit, and transportation upgrades around the Meadowlands complex will receive $20 million.

Of the total $3.3 billion, the DOT will receive $1.98 billion while NJ Transit gains $1.29 billion, according to the proposed capital plan.

To help support the plan, $1.6 billion will come from the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund Authority, which finances transportation infrastructure projects for the state, and another $1.56 billion will come from federal funding. In addition, NJ Transit and the DOT will supply $57 million and $54 million, respectively.

To generate funding, the TTFA will sell roughly $1.2 billion of tax-exempt bonds this fall, with that transaction to include fixed-rate debt as well as capital appreciation bonds according to the minutes of authority's Feb. 29 board meeting. In addition, the authority will sell approximately $270 million of grant anticipation revenue vehicle bonds, which are bonds the state issues that are backed by future federal revenues, with the federal government reimbursing New Jersey for debt service costs, as opposed to construction expenses.

One challenge for the state is how to finance transportation infrastructure beyond fiscal 2011, as the authority will be depleted of funds after that year. That means that the Garden State's first ever 10-year transportation plan mentioned above, is not fully funded beginning in fiscal 2012.

In January, Corzine proposed a debt restructuring plan that would support transportation needs for 75 years and pay down half of New Jersey's $32 billion of outstanding debt by selling up to $38 billion of debt backed by a 50% increase in tolls.

General Assemblyman Jon Wisniewski of Middlesex, who chairs the Transportation and Public Works Committee, offered an alternative proposal that includes smaller toll hikes than the governor's proposal yet boosts the gas tax by 18 cents over the next three years, and increases rent at rest stops. Those changes would generate $1.6 billion annually for transportation infrastructure while a potential long-term lease of the state lottery could bring in funds to help pay down New Jersey's outstanding debt.

 

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