The region’s transportation leaders, tasked with improving and modernizing the agencies that oversee the most critical components of a vast transportation network, will see an influx of federal funding this year from the $1,000 bipartisan infrastructure package. billion dollars recently signed.
Opportunities exist for urgent improvements to New Jersey’s bridges, roads, rail and bus systems and they will be a key part of deciding how those dollars will be spent.
We spoke to some of the state’s most influential transportation leaders about their top priorities and challenges for the coming year.
Entering his fifth year as president and CEO of NJ Transit, Kevin Corbett is looking to capitalize on the progress made as the agency seeks to regain its place as a leading, reliable source of public transit.
The list of accomplishments under his leadership includes improving rail service through a renewed roster of locomotive engineers, creating strategic and capital plans to guide more than $4 billion worth of projects, improving the customer experience with more mobile-friendly functions and the purchase of new vehicles.
But the list of challenges has grown as COVID has turned the world of transportation upside down and ridership has been difficult to maintain.
“We really hope this is the end, the last gasp of COVID,” said Corbett, who added that omicron caused ridership levels to plummet after bouncing back to about 70% of pre-pandemic commuter levels before. the end of December.
“Attendance hasn’t come back as quickly, it’s up 5-6%, but it hasn’t increased.”
Three federal financial aid packages have helped cover budget holes, but that money will soon run out, and in the absence of dedicated funding that the legislature has not committed by law in its 43-year history of the agency, Corbett worries about how the agency will continue the momentum.
“Right now we’re in a good position, but you start looking 2-3 years away and the money (American Rescue Plan Act) and (Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act) is gone,” Corbett said. “The state is going to have to find significant resources, and we are going to need this dedicated funding.”
Transport news:Academy Bus fined historic $20.5 million to settle NJ Transit fraud case, AG says
Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen, joked that he recently graduated from ‘Loretta Weinberg’s 20-year apprenticeship program’ after spending two decades in the Assembly before joining his Senate seat in January .
It means stepping into a Senate seat that has been an unwavering voice for Garden State commuters, and it’s a role Johnson said he proudly inherits.
“I know his priorities,” said Johnson, who also sits on the Senate Transportation Committee. “We will try to ensure that our commuters are taken care of, that they have a safe and punctual journey.”
The first order of business concerns two bills that have struggled to gain traction in recent years.
One would create a dedicated funding stream for NJ Transit using a corporate tax increase and the other would improve accountability measures overseeing the agency by making the customer advocate more independent, among other changes.
“Having this open line of communication between commuters and NJ Transit where we have a person there who represents their interests and makes sure their interests are heard, their complaints are heard, their ideas are heard – that’s a part of the bill that we ‘I work here,’ he said.
Johnson added that these bills would “improve the quality of life for commuters, wherever they are, whether it’s north or southeast New Jersey, it impacts them, and I think my colleagues (at the Legislative Assembly) will recognize it”.
As chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, Daniel Benson, D-Mercer, has his finger on most of the major issues facing commuters and travelers in this state, as well as the political savvy for the to safeguard.
“For me, the priorities — and have been since I started chairing — are really a broad focus on transportation equity,” said Benson, who served in the Assembly for 11 years. . “So I define no matter what zip code you’re in, no matter what your income, age, disability or ability, you have the ability to get from point A to point B in your life. “
He highlighted the need to develop a new model of providing Access Link services for people with disabilities, ensuring that there are robust transport services for those working outside traditional peak hours and speeding up the electrification of all vehicles.
“There are so many workers going into warehouses in New Jersey, if you talk to UPS, you talk to Amazon, transportation is one of the biggest hurdles for their employees,” Benson said. “We need to rethink our system for the modern workforce and how to make it accessible so people can get to work.”
But the issues he hears most from voters relate to the Motor Vehicle Commission, which has struggled to expand online services, reduce the backlog and effectively resume in-person transactions amid road closures. COVID.
“How do we keep the things that people love – making appointments, doing more online transactions and having that convenience – but how do we get back to the things that people didn’t want to give up? is to be able to go to any motor vehicle center and be able to do any transaction,” Benson said. “What is this path and how to return to it.”
“Clean energy is obviously a big deal,” said Sen. Patrick Diegnan, D-Middlesex, when asked what tops his list of transportation priorities this year.
“The whole issue of electric vehicles and charging stations and all the implications of that, where will they be located, local zoning laws…there are so many issues that come up that you don’t even realize it until until they show up,” said Diegnan, who has led his chamber’s transportation committee since 2018.
The transition to vehicles using alternative fuels or electric batteries is beginning to accelerate. Indeed, among the first bills to pass Diegnan’s committee during this year’s session was a pilot program to encourage the use of electric school buses.
NJ Transit is also expected to roll out a pilot program for its first electric bus line in Camden before the end of the year and $15 million in federal funding will go to New Jersey this year to expand its electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Part of the shift to cleaner energy, Diegnan said, is ensuring an array of transportation modes are safe, reliable and available to residents.
“One thing that is particularly important to me is the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. I think one of the side effects of the pandemic has been that more and more people have started walking,” he said. declared. “You’ve seen young people, really of all ages, cycling on the roads and people speeding past them at 40 miles per hour. Some of our core cities have put up barriers and so on, but that’s something something that we really need to get to grips with.”
Colleen Wilson covers the Port Authority and NJ Transit for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to his work covering the region’s transport systems and how they affect your travels, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
Email: [email protected]