N.J. to get $1.1B for bridges under Biden infrastructure law. Here’s what it means.

Published: Jan. 16, 2022

New funding under President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure law will give New Jersey $1.1 billion over the next five years to tackle its hundreds of deficient bridges.

The total amount, which breaks down to $229.4 million annually, is about what the state currently spends every year on bridges, and is over and above the $6.8 billion in federal funds allocated to New Jersey for roads and bridges over the next five years under the legislation.

“Much of our region’s infrastructure is old and subject to heavy daily wear and tear,” said Passaic County Commissioner John W. Bartlett, chairman of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, which works with the state and 13 north and central Jersey counties to allocate federal transportation funding. “These funds will help North Jersey and the rest of the state repair and replace more bridges, making travel safer and more efficient overall.”

It comes at a time when, thanks in part to the state’s gasoline tax increase, New Jersey steadily has been reducing its number of deficient bridges, defined as spans in which at least one major element is in poor condition. Some have weight restrictions, forcing heavy trucks and school buses to detour around the crossings.

“Our state’s structurally deficient bridges put millions of travelers at risk and threaten to slow down New Jersey’s economic growth, especially as we seek to recover from the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our economy,” U.S. Sen. Cory Booker said.

The state had 482 bridges, or 7.1% of its 6,798 bridges, rated as deficient in 2021, according to an analysis of Federal Highway Administration statistics by NJ Advance Media. That ranked New Jersey 21st among the 50 states. In 2020, 502 spans, or 7.4% of the state’s 6,801 bridges, were in poor condition. There were 602 deficient bridges in the state in 2012.

State Transportation Department Stephen Schapiro called the new funding “critical to addressing 480 bridges in N.J. that are in need of repair.”

The current list of bridges rated as deficient includes the span carrying Interstate 80 over the Passaic River, which handles 159,732 vehicles a day. That’s the state’s most heavily traveled bridge in poor condition, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, an industry group.

That I-80 bridge work currently is under design, Schapiro said. Earlier DOT documents estimated the cost of replacing the structure at $60 million but the final number won’t be known until the design is finished, he said.

Another deficient structure is the Route 4 bridge between Hackensack and Teaneck that was built in 1931. Some New Jersey bridges are even older.

“Some of our bridges date back to when William Howard Taft roamed the White House and the Athletics played home games in Philadelphia,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-9th Dist. “The decrepit state of these bridges is no nostalgic novelty: these potential travel hazards are a risk to public safety and create seemingly endless delays that steal hours away from workers and their families.”

Another heavily traveled span that had been rated as deficient, the N.J. Route 495 bridges carrying traffic to and from the Lincoln Tunnel across U.S. Routes 1 and 9 and Paterson Plank Road in North Bergen, was just rebuilt at a cost of $94 million.

“This type of federal investment pays for itself by ensuring our infrastructure is safer and more reliable, strengthening our economy and creating good-paying jobs,” U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez said. “To build a 21st century transportation network that is the envy of the world and keeps our nation economically competitive, we need greater federal investments like this, not less.”

The infrastructure bill also includes incentives to states to spend some of that funding on local bridges. While a state ordinarily has to pay 20% of the cost of bridge construction, the cost of repairing or rehabilitating local spans can be covered solely with federal funds.

“These are the bridges that are often overlooked when decisions are being made,” Biden said Friday in a speech marking the 60th day of him signing the infrastructure law. “But they are essential for small towns, rural towns, farmers to get their products to market, small businesses to be able to serve customers.”

Rep. Donald Payne Jr., a member of the House Transportation Committee, said he already has talked to Gov. Phil Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka about using some of the bridge funds to repair or replace the Haynes Avenue bridge over the Northeast Corridor train lines. He said commercial truck traffic continues to damage the pavement and threatens access to U.S. Routes 1 and 9.

“I am very excited about this once-in-a-generation opportunity to overhaul our country’s infrastructure,” said Payne, D-10th Dist. “It has been in disrepair for too long.”

Some of the funding also can be used to strengthen bridges against climate change, and to install features so pedestrians and bicycles safety can cross the spans, Deputy Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack said.

The entire New Jersey congressional delegation backed the infrastructure bill, the only state to have unanimous Democratic and Republican support for the legislation. But the yes vote from Rep. Chris Smith, R-4th Dist., drew condemnation from former President Donald Trump and a call for a primary challenger.

New Jersey could get even more money for bridge construction and repair. The state could compete for a share of $12.5 billion earmarked for economically significant bridges. Those grants await criteria to be drafted by the U.S. Transportation Department.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-01-17 03:31:57 -0800