Feeling it out

States like New Jersey hope Congress is ready to act

February 05, 2015

It has to be extremely difficult to get your hands on the wallet of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

I mean, look at the struggle Gov. Chris Christie put into the task. Isn’t that why he was so huggable with the captain of the NFL All-Billionaire Team after a few late-season wins? Tell me that was the reason, because Christie’s state, in particular the DOT side of the business, is in need of a deposit the size of a football field. 

In late January, following the collapse of an overpass on I-75 in Cincinnati, New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox called for the inspections of every bridge in the system. When it comes to elevated roads, the Garden State has let its network become infested with weeds. Every year Roads & Bridges does a state-by-state bridge analyses, Christie’s corner of the world is a corroded shantytown. New Jersey has ranked near the bottom when it comes to bridge conditions for well over a decade.

On July 1, everything will hit rock bottom. There will be no money for road and bridge improvements, and with no matching funds available New Jersey will have to forfeit millions more in federal aid. The state’s Transportation Trust Fund certainly does not have any problem coming up with the money. It generates $1.2 billion annually, but Christie has no problem getting his fingers on that money clip. Almost all of the funds generated from the gas tax and tolls are being used to pay off New Jersey’s $18.2 billion debt. 

So when Fox orders for the scanning of all bridges, it looks more like political posturing than anything else. The state simply does not have the money to send inspectors out to look at every crossing. What Fox should do is call for all bridges to be either weight restricted or closed. We’ll see how traffic moves after that order, but I’m sure Christie would get his fingerprints all over the situation once again and demand everything to be open regardless of condition. 

Instead of hanging on Jerry Jones, New Jersey’s governor and other state leaders like him should look at grabbing the attention of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and even Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). All three have come out publicly recently and stated a need to finally produce meaningful transportation-funding legislation. I cannot tell you the last time so many Capitol corporals have expressed such a sentiment, so any additional convincing wouldn’t hurt.

With gas prices continuing to dip, now is the time to strike with a tax increase, but as I have said on this page before such a move is not a long-term solution. What’s troubling is Washington has not even sparked a conversation about a way to deal with the growing number of electric vehicles out on the road. I thought the only solution was a mileage-based fee, but all the privacy cries are keeping Congress from counting tire rotations. What needs to be done is those who own electric cars should be charged an additional fee when they pay their license fee for the year. If you own a hybrid, a discounted price needs to be applied. This method has the stamina needed to eventually replace the heavy dependence currently being applied on a gas tax that is losing all feeling in its legs. 

However, before they crack the code on a new way to fund the road and bridge industry members of Congress will likely apply one more extension to MAP-21 when the current one expires in May. Then you will see a more serious push to fix the failing transportation-funding formula (and perhaps my idea will be touched on?). Too many people in power are talking about it now. It’s no longer a lone president or single Transportation Secretary dropping the rhetoric. Perhaps a group hug isn’t far behind? R&B

Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson
Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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