In spite of a doubling of the gas tax in 2016, another increase in October and yet another one looming, few motorists said that they felt the money has actually made New Jersey’s roads better, according to a poll released July 10 from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Roughly a third of the 802 New Jersey adults polled between May 29 and June 4 felt that roads were actually getting worse, while another third said their cars were recently damaged by potholes.
Sixteen percent of respondents said the roads were getting better, 35 percent the roads were getting worse and 47 percent of respondents said that road conditions remained the same, according to the joint FDU-International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825 poll.
“New Jersey commuters are being taxed more with the expectation that they will see meaningful improvement to their commutes,” Local 825 Business Manager Gregory Lalevee said. “Recently the American Society of Civil Engineers gave New Jersey infrastructure a grade of D and it is clear to the public that improvements aren’t happening.”
But a spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, which handles much of the repair and maintenance of the state’s highways, roads, bridges and tunnels, countered that in the past two years the agency invested $498 million to improve 1,734 lane miles of highways— 20.3 percent of the 8,553 miles the agency maintains.
“The answer to the question of where the additional revenue at the pumps is going is to the local roads and streets you drive on every day. In [Fiscal Year] 2019, NJDOT awarded Municipal Aid grants to 537 towns. That’s 95 percent of all municipalities in New Jersey,” NJDOT Spokesperson Stephen Schapiro said in a statement.
In FY2018, the agency awarded grants to projects in 505 municipalities in the state, according to Schapiro, but once the grants are awarded, it typically takes two years for local governments to move forward with the projects.
“We’re beginning to see the impact of last year’s grants, but what isn’t seen is the design and engineering work that takes place before construction can begin,” he added.
During the state treasurer’s May revenue report, budget analysts warned that as gas tax collections fall behind, another increase could be triggered.
Under state law, if gasoline consumption, revenue, and thereby tax payments go up, the tax rate decreases — while if the gas consumption goes down, the tax must increase. State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio said during the testimony that she was “cautiously optimistic” the tax rate would not increase, but the verdict would not be known until August.
The current gas tax rate is 41.4 cents per gallon of gasoline. It finances the $2 billion a year Transportation Trust Fund – $16 billion over eight years – which in turn funds state and local infrastructure projects. Former Gov. Chris Christie approved nearly doubling the rate by 23 cents in 2016. It increased again by 4 cents last October.