Testimony of Commissioner Jack Lettiere
April 10, 2003
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for the opportunity to appear before this Committee to discuss Governor McGreevey’s transportation budget for fiscal year 2004.
This budget comes at a time when the Administration and the State face an enormous fiscal crisis and when there are significant funding challenges on the federal level.
Added to that are additional costs and pressures to protect our homeland, a responsibility that the Governor does not take lightly.
Every day, DOT works closely with officials from the Office of Emergency Management and the Office of Counter Terrorism to safeguard our transportation network and to make sure evacuation routes are available in the event of an emergency.
New Jersey Transit has hired 40 additional police officers, equipped with radiation detectors and Gas masks.
NJ Transit now deploys a K-9 force and all employees are being given Anti-Terror training.
Governor McGreevey has said, and I firmly believe that even in hard times, a budget has to be a blueprint for the future and it has to reflect our values.
Full funding of the transportation budget will improve safety on our roads, enhance the quality of life for working families, ensure the vitality of our state’s economy, and preserve property tax relief for years to come.
This $2.58 billion investment in our transportation network will immediately sustain 105,000 jobs and spur $6.1 billion of economic activity.
And that is why I am here to seek your support for the transportation budget.
Over the last year, we have approached the State’s needs with a simple formula: Planning and Action.
Using this formula, we have identified the problem and diligently worked toward the solution.
We have focused on restoring fiscal responsibility and good government.
- We fired the original E-Zpass contractor and brought in the nation’s leading electronic toll collections operator.
- After months of hard work and evaluation, Governor McGreevey signed bi-partisan legislation to fix DMV. I am pleased to report that we are moving forward with critical security and customer service improvements that the people of our state expect and deserve.
- And the Governor has put to an end years of debate and discussion by proposing a toll road consolidation plan that will create efficiency, pool resources and save money.
The budget before you is a methodical approach to meeting the transportation needs of New Jersey today and in the future.
Working closely with the MPOs, we have defined a specific set of priorities that will:
improve safety, promote smart growth and Fix-it-First, provide resources to our cash strapped communities, increase public transit capacity, preserve our airports and create government efficiency.
We will be going back to basics.
My first priority as Commissioner has been and will always be to keep our roads safe for the residents of our State.
In March, the Governor unveiled Safety First, a comprehensive highway safety initiative- the first full scale commitment to highway safety this State has seen in 20 years.
Safety First was the result of a collaborative effort between DOT, the State Police, AAA, the federal government and representatives from the trucking industry.
For this initiative, the budget includes more than $20 million
--a $15 million median barrier program to reduce the risk of fatal crossover accidents.
--and $5 million for new transportation information technology to increase safety and improve our response time in an emergency.
The proposed Capital Program will provide $6 million for a new Safer Streets to Schools Program to make sure our kids can get to and from school safely.
In addition, it will spend $183 Million for Safety improvements- including intersection repairs and road resurfacing.
Mr. Chairman, New Jersey is riddled with aging roads and bridges that require work so that they remain safe and functional parts of our transportation network.
We cannot take our existing transportation network for granted.
That is why this budget continues our Fix-it-First policy.
We are using our transportation dollars to restore infrastructure and ease congestion and address the safety concerns facing drivers on a daily basis.
This budget will fund $290 million to repair and replace 76 bridges--they may not be the most glamorous projects but they are absolutely necessary for maintaining a safe and functional transportation network.
This Capital Program will spend $126 Million to ease congestion throughout the State with projects that make our highways more efficient and take cars off of the roads.
We are improving intersections and traffic circles, creating park and rides and focusing resources on our top ten congested areas.
New Jersey drivers spend 261 million hours sitting in traffic every year.
This is unacceptable. Our funds must be spent to combat congestion- today and in the future.
A difficult fiscal climate only amplifies the importance of long term planning and Smart Growth development.
For the second year in a row, I am very proud to say that we have limited the amount of highway expansion to only 4% of the Capital program.
But this does not mean that we are not building:
We are putting record amounts of work on the street-
In fact on any given day, there are more than 100 DOT projects under construction– with a value of $1.9 billion.
Our funds have been redirected to promote Smart Growth opportunities throughout the State.
DOT is in a unique position to create growth opportunities and we are committed to making sure that growth takes place in the right areas.
Projects that revitalize our urban and older suburban centers will create economic opportunity without encroaching on open spaces and increasing congestion.
In the end, smart growth is about cooperation and not confrontation.
An important component of the smart growth formula is public transportation- taking people out of their cars and giving them tangible transportation choices.
Back to Basics at NJTransit
At New Jersey transit, as Executive Director Warrington will tell you, this means making transit a welcome option with added capacity and reliable on-time service.
NJ Transit has adopted a back to basics approach to make transit a viable and welcome option for working families throughout our State.
In the last year, NJ Transit relieved overcrowding by adding 26 rush hour trains, with 11 more to come later this month.
This means 17,000 more seats to and from New York alone.
NJ Transit added buses on 13 local routes; as well as 8 routes serving New York, and it extended service to new areas on 7 bus routes.
Public transportation is perhaps our most powerful tool to ease congestion and improve the quality of life in our communities:
The new MidTown Direct Service from Montclair increased ridership by a ridership 20 percent, and contributed to one of the nation’s fastest rises in home property values, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The $1.3 billion budget will build upon the successes of this Back to Basics approach.
It will dedicate $49 million to fund operating costs for the new Secaucus Transfer station, Southern Jersey Light Rail and the extension of the Hudson Bergen light rail system.
And it will put another 85 buses on the road.
The funds will rehabilitate our rail infrastructure and plant the seeds for solving the capacity challenges we will face in the future, including plans for a new Trans-Hudson tunnel.
Our State has the most successful public transportation network in the country- and this budget will ensure New Jersey realizes the full benefit of that resource.
Airports, Maritime and Rail Freight System
But, Mr. Chairman, New Jersey’s transportation network is more than highways, bridges and public transportation.
It is also about utilizing our airports, freight rail and maritime services to move goods to markets and people across the country.
This budget invests more than $8 million for core airport system preservation- support that will benefit passenger flights, industry and agriculture.
It also provides $8 million to New Jersey’s public use airports for safety and other improvements.
A sound infrastructure system is important for an efficient rail freight system.
This budget will spend $10 million to improve and rehabilitate our rail freight network.
This budget also includes $4 million for management of dredging materials, intermodal terminal improvements and efficient movement of cargo.
Mr. Chairman, the Governor also understands that a volatile fiscal environment is not unique to state government, but to local governments as well.
Local aid in this economy takes on new importance by preserving property tax relief.
This budget will provide counties and municipalities more than $265 million for local infrastructure and safety improvements, bike paths, and pedestrian walkways.
All the programs in this budget would be just words on a piece of paper if we are unable to deliver.
As a 29 year veteran of this department, I can tell you this budget reflects a new focus for transportation: and that is efficiency.
In the past year, we have worked very hard to cut red tape by developing a new project pipeline so that critical projects are not held up in bureaucracy.
We’ve been able to fast-track $300 million of critical projects that will put more work on the street.
As a matter of fact, we completed our new pipeline process which in some cases will cut time to construction from 7 years to just one year.
Red Tape is not an asset to this operation: Our time, our money and our effort is better spent spurring our economy, enhancing safety, and preserving property tax relief.
Governor McGreevey, in his unwavering commitment to fiscal responsibility, has stressed the importance of doing more with less, and at the Department of Transportation this is a mandate we take seriously.
Since July, even though we lost 542 dedicated DOT employees to early retirement, we completed 23 projects- worth almost $400 million.
Our crews successfully cleared nearly five feet of snow from State roads and have filled over 30,000 potholes in the last 2 months using 21,000 tons of patch material.
Fix-it-First, Smart Growth, strategic planning and targeted action: We have designed this budget to maximize the mileage of New Jersey’s transportation dollars.
Mr. Chairman, I mentioned earlier that this budget season comes at a time when New Jersey faces significant challenges for the future of transportation funding on both a State and Federal level.
In the months ahead, it will be my job to define a clear picture of the State’s needs and map out the best route for transportation investments.
We have already begun meeting with Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission to identify those needs and their solutions.
On the Federal Level, I am working very closely with the Congressional delegation to bring New Jersey its fair share of federal transportation dollars when TEA 3 is renewed.
Meeting the State’s transportation needs is a challenge that I take very seriously, and a challenge I am ready to take on.
Our priorities are in order and I am confident that New Jersey will persevere through the challenges that lie ahead.
New Jersey has a long history of bipartisan support for transportation.
By supporting this budget today you will help improve safety, ease congestion, ensure the vitality of our state’s economy, and preserve property tax relief for years to come.
I look forward to working with all of you as we confront the challenges of transportation in New Jersey.