New Jersey, we must fight for our fair share of the infrastructure bill | Opinion
By Jamie LeFrak
As debate rages in Washington over the size and scope of the legislation to finance infrastructure, discussions in New Jersey have focused on what these plans mean to speed up the start of the country’s most expensive transportation project – the Gateway rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey.
This project, while undoubtedly important to the region as a whole, primarily provides jobs, business activity and essential tax revenue for this activity in New York City. Therefore, Gateway should not be the only topic of conversation or the sole focus of New Jersey’s infrastructure resources. New Jersey towns and villages need the lifeblood of transportation access to compete with their regional neighbors for employers and investments.
New Jersey is in the midst of a unique opportunity to build and rebuild critical transportation infrastructure across the state. We cannot afford to waste this opportunity. We need to think big and take dramatic and immediate action. In our state, there are huge investment opportunities and infrastructure projects ready for implementation. Here are three examples of local projects and a statewide opportunity that we all should be discussing. However, this is not an exhaustive list – these are just a few important examples, and they are not enough; our local, state, and federal leaders must support all major projects within our state’s borders, and they must do so now.
In Hudson County, the Waterfront Connection, also known as the North Jersey Traffic Bypass, is a prime example of one of these opportunities. the Mobility Circle Plan 1989 proposed by former Governor Tom Kean was included in Senate Bill 10 passed on July 8, 1994. He ordered the Commissioner of Transportation to include the ring road on a list of projects to be funded. All of the projects on the list were deemed essential to improve commuter access and foster new jobs and economic growth. Almost every element of the Circle of Mobility Plan has been completed, leaving the salient piece unfinished: the North Jersey Traffic Bypass.
The North Jersey Traffic Bypass would also connect the chronically disconnected parts of Jersey City, further opening up the western part of Jersey City to development and amplifying the dynamism of one of the most diverse and rapidly growing cities in the country. Twenty-eight years later, residents and businesses of Hudson County are still waiting for the construction of this critical bypass. In accordance with the Senate bill, there is a legal obligation to move this bill forward.
In Newark, we need to fully fund a brand new, state-of-the-art AirTrain at Newark Liberty International Airport, to replace the outdated and unreliable system that has been in service since 1996. In addition, we need to move forward with the Project. PATH extension that would connect the PATH train line directly to Newark Liberty International Airport. Together, these projects would provide seamless connections to the airport from Amtrak, NJ Transit and PATH, reducing the need to depend on cars. In addition, they would modernize and improve the efficiency of the airport and be a much-needed step forward in making Newark Liberty International one of the best airports in the county.
In Camden, we have the opportunity to innovate on the Glassboro-Camden Light Rail project, a proposed 18 mile passenger rail line in southern New Jersey. The project would restore passenger rail service along the existing Glassboro to Camden rail line, effectively expanding the Camden metropolitan area and benefiting thousands of commuters in South Jersey. At the same time, this project would create jobs, strengthen the economic competitiveness of the state and promote economic development throughout the region.
Statewide, we have the opportunity to fully scale our trains and buses to a zero-emission electric fleet. This all-electric fleet would reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuels and strengthen its commitment to clean air.
Let’s come together and move forward on truly local infrastructure planning to bring jobs and investment back to New Jersey. Infrastructure funding will never be available again, and it should be used to improve the interconnectivity of our towns and cities, retaining the economic activity generated by the investments so that it stays in New Jersey rather than being “Diverted” to New York. This opportunity to shape the future competitiveness of the state should not be missed.
Jamie LeFrak is a trustee and representative of citizens of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority and vice-president of real estate company LeFrak.
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