The dreadful state of New Jersey’s infrastructure was brought into renewed focus in January, when the NJ Department of Transportation issued an emergency close order on a road bridge on Amwell Road in Franklin Township. The bridge, which is 12 miles north of Princeton, was on a list of over 500 known ‘functionally obsolete’ or ‘structurally deficient’ bridges in New Jersey. Inspectors found that part of the bridge was physically buckling as trucks drove over it. How many deficient bridges are there in Princeton?
Ten bridges in Princeton reach the ranking of ‘functionally obsolete’ or ‘structurally deficient’. These include bridges carrying important commuter routes such as Princeton Pike and Alexander Street.
Although these bridges are not considered at risk of imminent failure, they are on the priority list for upgrades or replacement. The problem is that the repairs and upgrades statewide are estimated to cost of the order of $400 million. And the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund is on the brink of insolvency. After years of burning through Turnpike toll money and funds that had been earmarked for transit improvements, there is now a real risk that road and bridge improvement projects will have to stop, because of a lack of funds. Several New Jersey Assembly members have identified an increase in New Jersey’s gas tax rate as a potential source of new funding.
Raising the gas tax is controversial, but it’s not clear how long we can keep safely using our bridges if the Transportation Trust Fund is not replenished, or replaced by some other funding mechanism. At present, the gas tax and other user fees funds less than half of road and bridge spending in New Jersey, according to data from the Tax Foundation. The nightmare scenario is that if upgrades are delayed for too long, we will see a catastrophic bridge failure. The structurally-deficient I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people. In the wake of that disaster, the Minnesota Assembly passed a 5.5 cent gas tax increase to fund upgrades, including overriding a veto by the Governor at the time, Tim Pawlenty.
Are you concerned about the state of roads and bridges around Princeton? Is a gas tax increase the appropriate way to restore funding for maintenance? Have your say in the comments section below.