NJ has a large pot of unspent Transportation Enhancements (TE) funds dating back to 2009’s ARRA. TE funds are federal transportation funds that are allocated to states by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and are available for municipalities, counties, transit agencies and others to use to implement projects that increase transportation options. Pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and safety programs are eligible to receive this funding. The TE program was replaced by the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) in October 2012,; TAP also provides funds for bike and pedestrian projects.
In 2014, NJDOT received another $17 million in TAP funds from FHWA. As of 2014, the state had $70.9 million in combined TE/TAP funds unspent and available for projects. At this rate, the pot was never going to be emptied, and the state was at risk of having any portion of the TE and TAP funds rescinded by the FHWA – in other words, pulled back by the federal government.
The NJ Bike & Walk Coalition, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership have worked closely with the NJDOT’s Local Aid office over the past three years to provide advice and assistance in finding ways to make these funds more accessible to municipalities. Efforts included training workshops for towns and counties to learn how to complete and submit a strong application, assisting NJDOT in understanding how other states allocate these funds, and urging NJDOT to establish a regular schedule of solicitations for these funds.
Separately, our organizations support partnerships that create or advocate for large scale, regional projects that have broad support and due to their regional significance, have the potential to impact many NJ residents. Several examples are the Circuit in the Greater Philadelphia Metro Area (Burlington, Camden, Mercer and Gloucester Counties), the Ice and Iron Greenway Project in Essex and Hudson Counties, a countywide bikeway network in Cape May County, and the Morris Canal Greenway project which spans six counties in northern NJ. Regional projects like these are difficult to fund, as they require large sums to implement; the current annual TAP rounds are capped at $1 million per project, and the state aid program (Bikeways) is capped at $1 million per year for the entire program.
In a November 2014 meeting with Michael Russo, Director of Local Aid for NJDOT, we discussed these larger projects and the possibility of creating a program that would fund their construction. Our rationale was that many of these projects had already completed feasibility and conceptual design work, were close to being “shovel ready,” and could put these federal dollars to work quickly. These projects also have “showcase potential,” and will encourage smaller, municipal-level add-on projects through a ripple effect. They will also begin to create transportation networks, where people can get from point A to point B, rather than being stand-alone bike lanes that lead to nowhere.
Together we submitted a letter to Michael Russo in December 2014, and in March 2015, NJDOT announced the Regional TE funds program. At this time, the state’s three MPOs – North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA), the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC), and the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization (SJTPO) – are all gathering lists of potential projects that will qualify under this new program.
In addition to the health and environmental benefits of creating bike and pedestrian facilities, the economic impacts on local towns is substantial. For example, the Delaware & Lehigh Valley Trail generated an estimated $19 million for the region in 2012, from approximately 282,000 trail visitors. Projects such as the Morris Canal Greenway, the Ice & Iron Greenway, and the Cape May County bike network have the potential for similar benefits to the communities they touch.
Cyndi Steiner, Executive Director, NJ Bike & Walk Coalition
NJ Transit is slated to raise bus and train fares 9% effective October 1, the fifth fare hike since 2002, while the state’s gas tax remains unchanged since 1988, and is the nation’s second lowest. In addition to the fare hikes, the agency is cutting service on several key train and bus lines.
Raising mass transit fares forces more people off public transportation and into their cars, increasing congestion and making the roads more dangerous for those who walk and bike for transportation and for recreation.
Putting more cars on the road works against bike riders and pedestrians in many ways:
Raising fares also affects poorer people disproportionately, as they may not have the resources to afford the fare hike or to change their mode of transportation; not everyone can afford to simply go out and buy a car. Biking and walking enables many disadvantaged to reach transit, to complete their commutes. Cutting service and raising fares causes upheaval for these individuals that those with resources cannot begin to contemplate: a job change, a move closer to work, or worse, a move away from family and friends to another state where mass transit is cheaper.
On the other side of the economic spectrum, today’s millenials, who will be tomorrow’s leaders, are choosing to live and work in cities and towns that provide a variety of transportation options such as mass transit, walking and biking. This generation is opting out of the car-centered lifestyle that saw their parents waste away hours per week trapped on congested roads, as NJ crept towards having the nation’s longest commutes.
With the deplorable condition of NJ’s roads and bridges due to lack of state transportation trust funding, and little political will to make them safer for bicycling and walking, raising transit fares and cutting service is backwards, 1950s era , car-centered transportation policy, and the beginning of a downward spiral that will leave the state with a sub-standard mass transit system amidst roads that are near gridlock with congestion. The country’s most densely populated state should be embracing a mass transit-centered transportation policy that supports and encourages other transportation options. The state’s economic future and the health of the residents depend upon it.
Moving in Reverse: Monmouth County Guts Its Complete Streets Policy
by Cyndi Steiner & Aaron Hyndman
In 2010, Monmouth County made a landmark commitment to safer roadways by being the first county in New Jersey to adopt a Complete Streets plan. Sadly, the progress that was put in motion five years ago is in danger of grinding to a halt. Last month, Monmouth County established a set of Bicycle Facility Policy Guidelines that, instead of facilitating the installation of bicycling accommodations, will almost certainly be an impediment to the development of the network of safe bike lanes that the residents of Monmouth County were promised in 2010.
By law, the responsibility to fund the construction and maintenance of county roadways lies with the county government, not the municipalities. However, Monmouth County’s new Bicycling Facility Policy and Guidelines, as stated in Resolution 2015-0352, change that dramatically. According to the new Guidelines, all pavement markings and regulatory signs pertaining to bike lanes on county roadways are to be installed at the municipality’s expense. In addition, the Policy Guidelines also force municipalities to assume the costs of planning and design for bicycling facilities on county roads. These cities, boroughs and townships, already responsible for financing their own roads and streets, are now being unfairly forced to bear the burden of funding installations on county roadways that are not, and should not be, their responsibility. Not only is such a policy unfair, it’s also unwieldy, as it unnecessarily compartmentalizes and complicates what should be a streamlined and centralized planning process under the guidance of the County Engineer.
Fair Haven Mayor Ben Lucarelli describes this action as putting a knife right through the 2010 Complete Streets Policy. Monmouth County’s Freeholders cannot be allowed to renege on their commitment to Complete Streets in such a manner that unfairly passes the buck, imposing financial and logistical obligations on municipalities that are already doing their fair share with regards to their own roads and streets. To do so threatens future installation of the bicycling facilities Monmouth County residents have been promised.
Monmouth County’s 2010 Resolution states that where “practicable,” the Monmouth County Complete Streets Program “shall include all road, bridge, and building projects funded through Monmouth County’s Capital Program.” The facts show that such inclusion is entirely feasible, despite County officials stating that the $15,000 per mile cost of bicycling facilities is an expense that exceeds the county’s financial limitations. Not only is $15,000 a mere fraction of the total per mile cost of repaving a roadway, but federal and state funding for bicycling facilities is also available to counties, thereby mitigating the cost of such installations.
What’s lacking is not the capital required to fund complete streets in Monmouth County. All that is absent is the political will for Monmouth County officials to follow through with the promises they’ve made regarding safe streets for all residents who use them. It’s time to hold the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders accountable, and ensure that they make good on their obligation to provide for their residents the safety of complete streets.
Cyndi Steiner is the Executive Director of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition. Aaron Hyndman serves as the organization’s Communications Coordinator.
[ed. note – A previous edition of this article indicated that the Bicycle Facility Policy Guidelines, passed on April 23, were voted on not during the open meeting, but in executive session. NJBWC has verified that this was not the case, and has amended this post accordingly.]