Testimony of Damien Newton, NJ Coordinator for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, to the North Jersey Transportation and Planning Authority on the FY 07 Capital Construction Program

March 29, 2006

 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

 The Tri-State Transportation Campaign is happy to note some progress when comparing the FY 06 and FY 07 Capital Construction Programs.  The program for 2007 allocates a greater percentage of the program on road and bridge reconstruction (46% to 42%) and more on local aid (16% to 15%).  This program continues the trend of the past several years to emphasize Fix-It-First projects in the Capital Program.

 However, when examining the individual programs on a project-by-project basis, we’ve noticed that two large widening projects, one masked as a bridge replacement project on Route 17 in Bergen County and the proposed widening of Route 1 in Middlesex County will cost nearly $46 million dollars by themselves, pushing the total amount spent on highway capacity expansion very close the 4% limit that the Campaign and other smart growth and environmental advocates have called for in transportation spending.

 In 2004, the Campaign was joined by the North Jersey Sierra Club in writing to then DOT-Commissioner Jack Lettiere, in a letter that was carbon copied to NJTPA staff, expressing our concerns with the Essex Street Bridge project on Route 17. The project, funded over two years, will cost $35 million dollars and will be two lanes wider (from four to six lanes) then the one that currently exists.  The project description says that the project is being widened “to be compatible with planned future improvements on Route 17.”

 We ask again…to what future improvements are you referring?  The DOT has been clear in public presentations along the Route 17 corridor that a widening of the road, besides being bad policy, is also financially impossible as right-of-way acquisitions would cost nearly $1 billion.  This project should have been redesigned years ago, but it’s not too late to redesign it now.  Construction on the project has not begun and can be halted by taking corrective action now, before you approve the 2007 Capital Construction Program.  We urge you to remove the Route 17 Essex Street Bridge Reconstruction Program until the project is redesigned to have only four lanes.

 Another project that should have been removed years ago is the “Helen Street Extension Project” in Middlesex County.

 The NJTPA will be allocating over $2 million dollars towards the design of a road that will destroy the ecologically important Dismal Swamp, a wetland that has been declared by the EPA to be a “priority wetland,” and will not achieve the projects stated goal to divert a significant number of trucks from local streets according the traffic studies that were done as part of the EA.  Several local environmental groups, many of whom are working to preserve and enhance the Dismal Swamp, joined the Campaign in asking for a full EIS for this project.  That letter is also attached.

 We urge you to also remove this program from the Capital Program.

 You also have an opportunity to weigh in on a project in Sussex County that while not funded this year, though will be funded in next year’s Capital Construction Program.

 The DOT has been proposing to widen Route 206 from two to five lanes through the heart of Byram Township for nearly a decade.  While the township, local, regional, and statewide environmental groups have all been crying out for this project to be scrapped and re-designed, the project has continued to move forward.  This project should be removed from the Capital Construction Program now until the project is redesigned to improve traffic flow without destroying the character of Byram Township and damaging the local ecosystem.  A letter from the Campaign and other organizations against this widening is also attached.

 We urge you to not advance this project any further at this time.

 With just a couple of minor changes, what looks to be a good Capital Construction Program, could be a great program.  We urge you to remove the above discussed programs.  Thank you for the opportunity to testify today, and I am available for any questions.