Last week’s horrific Hoboken train terminal crash drove home a salient fact every Garden State resident knows: NJ infrastructure needs investment dollars.
Long before last week, corporate leaders in NJ voiced their concern about infrastructure in a 2015 Chamber of Commerce survey. A hundred NJ executives were polled by the chamber, and guess what they cited as their biggest concern? You guessed it, Transportation. It beat out worries about the economy, government bureaucracy, and even the dreaded mandatory minimum wage. Because companies need workers and workers need reliable sources of transportation to get to work safely.
While all the facts about the crash are not known, one thing NJ Transit lacks is an automatic braking system. Had it been installed, the crash might have been averted. Other regional rail lines also are behind in installing the latest safety technology. Transportation experts, like Richard Barone of NYC’s Regional Planning Association, told The Wall Street Journal, “We’re behind in introducing the latest technologies,” and “the agencies are undercapitalized.”
Transportation undercapitalization is a dangerous thing. Politicians who oversee depleted transportation funds are usually loathe to do the one thing that might restore them, raise taxes. It doesn’t increase their popularity with voters. But people dying on their way to work has a way of making the public sympathetic to the need for transportation funds. It was no coincidence that this week Governor Chris Christie agreed to raise the gas tax, 23 cents a gallon, to help fund the Transportation Trust Fund.
NJ has a poor track record with infrastructure investment. Andrew Winston of The Huffington Post reminds us that it was not that long ago that Governor Christie thwarted plans for a desperately needed rail tunnel from NJ to NY. We are in an era of “starve the beast” Winston writes. All government spending, even the kind that gets us to work in the morning safely and on-time, is bad. It wasn’t always this way. Winston points out that at one time infrastructure spending was totally bi-partisan. Everyone agreed we needed it. That is why President Eisenhower (a Republican) was able to pass his $200 billion Federal Highway Bill with unanimous approval from Congress in 1956.
Not everyone can drive a car to work, nor is it desirable that they do. NJ needs to show a stronger commitment to making its public transportation systems safe.