NJ SEED Issues In the News
Please see below, an interesting article concerning a possible federal transportation investment in New Jersey as well as an article regarding NJTransit’s aging infrastructure. A big thanks to NJ SEED trustees Chris Burgos of the State Troopers Fraternal Association of NJ, Inc. and Daniel J. O’Connell of the United Transportation Union for passing them along to our office.
Highway bill would send $1.5 billion in funding to New Jersey
MALIA RULON HERMAN
Courier-Post Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON – New Jersey would get the highest public transportation funding ever – $519 million per year – under the federal highway bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday. People who take public transportation to work and seniors also would benefit from the bill.
But New Jersey would get less money for road projects than in 2011. New Jersey would get $988 million, which is a 4.6 percent decrease from the $1.04 billion it received last year. Overall, New Jersey would get $1.5 billion for transportation needs.
The bill now moves to the House, where lawmakers are expected to consider it next week. Congress has until the end of the month to get a bill to the president’s desk before the federal gasoline and diesel taxes, the main source of revenue for the bill, expire on March 31. Wednesday’s bipartisan vote puts pressure on the House to take up the Senate bill instead of a five-year $260 billion House transportation measure. The House measure has faced opposition because it would remove guaranteed funding for mass transit from the Highway Trust Fund.
The Senate’s bill, approved 74-22, would spend $109 billion over about two years.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., praised the Senate bill for its funding of transit programs. Under the Senate bill, New Jersey’s share would go up by about $63 million a year. “This bill provides our state more federal formula transit funding than ever before, which will mean a more reliable and safer transportation system,” said Menendez. “It will also allow New Jersey’s employers to continue to attract world-class talent from around the region and cost-effectively transport goods to market.”
The Senate bill includes a retroactive extension of the mass transit commuter tax benefit that allows commuters to spend up to $240 per month in pre-tax dollars. The bill also would increase funding for transportation services for seniors and the disabled. New Jersey’s share would increase to $7.8 million, up from $6.5 million.
Delays Grow As Rails Age At NJ Transit
Written By Heather Haddon -Wall Street Journal
Equipment failures along the aging rail lines that carry NJ Transit trains are causing longer delays affecting a growing number of commuters, a Wall Street Journal analysis of public records shows.
Broken signals or faltering overhead power lines led to average systemwide delays of three hours and 25 minutes in 2011, a jump of more than an hour since 2009, the analysis showed. The number measures the total wait experienced by all trains affected by each incident.
Delays actually decreased 11% last year from 2010. But when the failures occur, they now have more far-reaching effects: The number of NJ Transit passengers affected by the delays rose 7% between 2009 and 2011, even though ridership declined over the same period.
The problems reflect the challenges facing transit systems across the country: aging infrastructure, state and federal budget cuts and the politically sensitive nature of fare increases.
Still, NJ Transit is in a unique position. Its most popular line-a 60-mile stretch between Trenton and New York City-is owned and operated by Amtrak. The wires that power trains along that route were last replaced in the 1980s.
There are few areas along that stretch where trains can bypass each other, and only two tunnels carry NJ Transit and Amtrak traffic in and out of Penn Station. One mishap can have ripple effects systemwide.
Last week, an NJ Transit train became stuck in a tunnel under the Hudson River after it snagged overhead electrical wiring. The incident kept other trains, including Amtrak, delayed for hours, and passengers had to be rerouted to Hoboken.
NJ Transit passengers said they have come to expect delays as a common, and aggravating, occurrence upending their daily commute. “I get to a very important meeting late. Or going home, I miss my daughter’s events,” said Shae Kalyani, 47 years old, who commutes daily between Princeton Junction and New York City.
Megan Unden, a 24-year-old Rutgers University student, said the breakdowns often make her late. “I can’t get up at five in the morning because NJ Transit can’t get their act together,” she said. “The professors are really nice about it, but I’d like to be in class.”
Delays can also be traced to other factors, such as power failures. But three years of NJ Transit records obtained through an Open Public Records Act request detailed the increasing time passengers wait because of breakdowns in the signal system or overhead electric power lines.
Parts of this infrastructure date back to the 1930s, and temperature changes cause the wires to droop-a significant factor in malfunctions, said Joseph Clift, a transportation consultant and retired Long Island Rail Road director.
“The delays happen a lot. You don’t see that happening on other systems,” he said.
John Durso Jr., a NJ Transit spokesman, said that the agency is spending $43 million this year to upgrade its equipment, including $11 million for signals and electrical equipment.”[We] keep paramount our commitment to customer service, rail safety and customer communication,” Mr. Durso said in a statement.
Overall, capital spending on NJ Transit’s entire system fell to 33% of the state transportation project a year later, said Cliff Cole, an Amtrak spokesman.
The upgrades are scheduled to resume as part of a $450 million federal project to bring high-speed rail along the corridor, Mr. Cole said.
The work is slated to be complete by September 2017 and will upgrade a 24-mile section from Trenton to New Brunswick in New Jersey.
Mr. Cole said the Amtrak rail lines in New Jersey “work quite well” and are regularly maintained, but the agency could use more money to modernize the equipment. “We do need additional funding enhance the infrastructure along the Northeast Corridor,” Mr. Cole said.
Some passengers said the delays were particularly frustrating in light of a 22% fare increase initiated by NJ Transit in May 2010. The average cost of a one-way trip is now $10.48. The fares were raised after an 11% state cut to transit funding.
“I’ve had to [take a] taxi in addition to my $200 transportation pass,” said Lori Pescherine, a 55-year-old marketing director. “You have to leave early enough to plan for train delays.”
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