As the new year starts, New Jersey faces an infrastructure crisis. Our roads and bridges are deteriorating faster than we can fix them and we have relied too much on debt to repair what we can. And now the Transportation Trust Fund – the primary source of funding for state roads, bridges, mass transit, and a major contributor to county and municipal infrastructure funding – will be bankrupt by July 1. Something needs to be done.
We need a smart solution based on good data and best practices. Unfortunately, flawed data is being touted in Trenton and beyond, distorting facts and leading legislators and voters towards a future of potholes and failing bridges.
You can’t make a good decision with bad data. And the Reason Foundation report is, unfortunately, bad data. Their Annual Highway Report repeatedly scores New Jersey poorly without properly accounting for the age of complexity of NJ’s infrastructure, the debt service of the Transportation Trust Fund, the funding of NJ Transit, the density of the state’s population, the preponderance of heavy trucks (thanks to our location between NYC and Philly), and other factors.
We aren’t the only ones to see the Reason Foundation’s flawed logic. Here’s a sampling of what others say about their report:
“‘It would be nice if every state reported their numbers the same way. It would make things simpler. But it’s not realistic,’ (Federal Highway Authority spokesman) Hecox said. ‘Does it make things more difficult to do a national comparison? Of course.’
“So the Reason Foundation study, they say, counts the same $1.2 billion twice: Once as construction bills and again as interest payments on debt stretching back 30 years.
“Finally, the Reason Foundation study includes $438 million in federal aid for local road projects, Bertoni said, plus $238 million in vehicle fees that officially went to the state DOT but actually stayed with the Motor Vehicle Commission. Claiming these amounts were spent on state roads falsely inflated the total, Bertoni said.
“Altogether, the Reason Foundation study overstates New Jersey’s annual highway spending by at least $1.8 billion, transportation officials said. That number excludes debt payments on NJ Transit and local road projects.
“‘It really drives me crazy,’ Jack Lettiere, a former state transportation commissioner, said of the Reason report. ‘It’s deceiving. It’s misleading. These people don’t have an understanding of the business…It’s misleading…It’s not an accurate description of what’s happening.’”
$2M road repair estimates greatly inflated, N.J. says
Christopher Maag, The Record
“Phineas Baxandall at the Public Interest Research Group said Reason’s method of measuring efficiency is sorely lacking. ‘Purely a dollar per mile is going to be kind of a biased opinion,’ he said. ‘The more urban you are, the harder it is to just pour tarmac and open roads, the more expensive it is.’…states that are doing a decent job of managing their transportation systems might actually be rated very poorly by this report.”
How Reason’s Highway Report Works Against Urban Areas
Angie Schmitt, Streetsblog
What’s unfortunate is that the flawed Reason Foundation report paints NJ’s construction industry in an unflattering light, despite data to the contrary and despite recent achievements like finishing the NJ Turnpike Widening Project (from exits 6 to 9) $200 million under budget and competitive bidding for 2009 Federal stimulus funding saving taxpayers $30 million.
If we as a state capitulate to this faulty data by defunding the Transportation Trust Fund or continuing to rely upon bond debt to pay for our roads, we’re only hurting ourselves. The current condition of the state’s road demonstrates that we already are. As President Reagan said, “The bridges and highways we fail to repair today will have to be rebuilt tomorrow at many times the cost.”
We need a bi-partisan solution to the Transportation Trust Fund that is dedicated to infrastructure. Now. We invite NJ’s legislators, media, and citizens to engage in a fact-based, substantive discussion about the state’s infrastructure. We need to put away the finger-pointing and the knee-jerk reaction. And we need to put away the flawed Reason Foundation report, because you can’t make a good decision with bad data.
ELEC supports a fully funded Transportation Trust Fund that is DEDICATED to capital improvements.