Crumbling roads take me home: New Jersey declares state of emergency over infrastructure

© Beck Diefenbach
After counting the potholes on the New Jersey Turnpike, Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency over the condition of the Garden State’s roads. He ordered officials to shut down all current work after lawmakers failed to reach a funding deal.

Christie issued the executive order declaring the emergency late Thursday, the day when the Senate negotiations to save the Transportation Trust Fund – which is expected to run out of money this summer – failed.

Christie said that he is instructing the New Jersey Department of Transportation to shut down all work by the end of Saturday that isn’t directly essential to the safety and welfare of citizens.

“As this executive order states, in order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of this state, it is necessary that the remaining amounts held by the TTF not be spent on any transportation project that is not absolutely essential,” Christie said in a statement.

The governor’s rejected proposal called for the ratcheting up of New Jersey’s gasoline taxes from 14.5 cents per gallon, the second-lowest lowest in the nation, to 24.5 cents per gallon.

The tax increase would have generated an estimated $550 million in additional funding for fiscal year 2017 and roughly $100 million per year in additional funding after that.
Christie, a Republican, reached a deal with the Democrat-controlled State Assembly earlier in the week to raise the gasoline tax in exchange for a lowered sales tax that would save New Jersey residents billions. Democratic leaders in the Senate rejected that deal, saying that the tax cut would harm the state’s budget.

“The Senate’s inaction ignored the benefits the package would bring to the overburdened taxpayers of New Jersey, who would benefit daily from the sales tax cut it would provide and the retirement income tax elimination for 81 percent of senior citizens,” Christie said. “The Senate’s inaction also ignored New Jersey’s necessary transportation infrastructure improvements, as well as the hundreds of private-sector workers who came to Trenton today with their jobs hanging in the balance, because the Senate failed to re-authorize this Transportation Trust.”

Senate President Joseph Sweeney said in a separate statement Friday that he disagrees with Christie’s move, and is worried that a lot of people hired on road projects would be laid off over the emergency measure.

"I'm disappointed Governor Christie has decided to act so quickly to freeze so many important transportation projects," Sweeney said in a separate statement to the press Friday. "Most painful will be the workers laid off because of this immediate stoppage."
Lawmakers said that the fund’s money would last for at least a month, and stressed that attempts to reach a deal would pick up again in mid-July.

New Jersey’s roads system is considered to be among the worst in the nation. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave the state a D+ infrastructure rating, and analysis from transportation research TRIP found that 40 percent of major urban roads in the state are in “poor” condition.