Paying for Transportation

New York’s and New Jersey’s public transit systems face financial challenges on almost annual bases due to inadequate state and local funding, while Connecticut’s suffers from years of underinvestment and arrested development. All three states perennially score near the bottom when states are ranked by road and bridge conditions.

Through these campaigns, Tri-State is working to ensure that states provide enough funding for transit expansion projects that are vitalto the economic future of our region, and that our existing transportation system is maintained in a state of good repair:

Federal Policy Reform

Every 6 years, Congress plays a major role in setting the country’s transportation priorities by determining how hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars can be spent. State and local governments ultimately control their own destiny, but the federal transportation bill directly influences how and where they invest in transportation.

 

New Jersey

Transportation Trust Fund

New Jersey's Transportation Trust Fund is the main source of state funding for NJDOT and NJ Transit capital projects. It is funded by the state gas tax and portions of several other taxes. The fund has increasingly come to rely on bonding and is now expected to go bankrupt in 2011.

 

NJ Transit

New Jersey has a relatively dense transit network, with many residents crossing into Philadelphia and New York City daily. Its main transit provider, NJ Transit, is the nation’s largest statewide transit agency, with 900,000 daily trips on its 11 commuter rail lines, 3 light rail lines and hundreds of bus routes. Unfortunately, despite a decade of steady growth, the agency is woefully underfunded.

NJ Transit’s operating budget is funded by three main sources: fares, state aid and transfers from its capital budget. With no dedicated source of operating funds, the agency’s ability to run buses and trains is subjected to the whims of the state legislature and especially vulnerable to external fiscal crisis. 

Unlike the operating budget, the capital budget is primarily debt-funded.  The capital budget’s largest source of revenue is the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, which is funded almost entirely through debt. The imminent default of the TTF combined with a lack of state funding means that NJ is putting the future of public transportation on a credit card.

 

New York

Metropolitan Transportation Authority

The New York MTA does not have sufficient funding for its next five-year capital plan, necessary in order to maintain its existing infrastructure, bring the system closer to a state of good repair, and continue building system expansion projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access (read more on TSTC's Better Mass Transit page). The MTA will have to avoid excessive bonding -- the cause of the ballooning debt payments which are driving the current operating budget crisis.

A few proposals to raise transit funds have been proposed in recent years:

Congestion Pricing

In 2008, the New York City Council approved a congestion pricing plan that would have reduced traffic and congestion throughout the region and raised revenues for mass transit projects; however, the plan died in the State Legislature without a vote.

East River/Harlem River Bridge Tolls

Tolling the East and Harlem River bridges in New York City would raise hundreds of millions of dollars to expand transit service, and eliminate the significant government subsidies which go towards bridge maintenance costs. The status quo of free bridges also creates incentives for drivers to cut through residential neighborhoods in order to avoid tolled crossings.

 

Road and Bridge Maintenance Needs

In 2010, NYSDOT Acting Commissioner Stan Gee said that "aging infrastructure is the most pressing issue in need of attention in New York State." The state faces large backlogs of road and bridge repair work, but the political will to invest heavily in maintenance has not been there. In 2009, the state was forced to close and demolish the Lake Champlain Bridge between New York and Vermont due to unsafe conditions.

Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 Corridor Transit

NYSDOT has ambitious -- and expensive -- plans to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge and add transit to the I-287 corridor connecting Rockland and Westchester Counties in New York. Missing is a plan to pay for these improvements.

 

 

Connecticut

Connecticut's Special Transportation Fund, which pays for capital construction projects, is also facing insolvency.

Connecticut Tolling

In 2009, the state's Transportation Strategy Board finished a study of various forms of tolling and congestion pricing, including high-occupancy toll lanes, a vehicle miles traveled tax, border tolls, and more. State legislators have expressed interest in using tolls as a new source of revenue.

 

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