‘Game changer’

Daniel J. Munoz//November 15, 2021

‘Game changer’

What the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package could mean for New Jersey

Daniel J. Munoz//November 15, 2021

“If you shut down all passenger service on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor,” President Joe Biden said in May, “you’d have to add seven new lanes of highway on [Interstate 95].”
“If you shut down all passenger service on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor,” President Joe Biden said in May, “you’d have to add seven new lanes of highway on [Interstate 95].” – EDWIN J. TORRES/NJ GOVERNOR’S OFFICE

With Congress finally sending President Joe Biden the long-stalled $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and the Democratic president sure to sign it, New Jersey could receive roughly $12.3 billion to spend on a variety of projects.

The bill narrowly passed in the House of Representatives, with all 12 New Jersey members supporting it including Republicans Chris Smith and Jeff Van Drew. The U.S. Senate approved it over the summer, but talks stalled as the infrastructure package was tied to a much larger social safety and climate change spending bill.

That $12.3 billion could be vital to the most densely populated state in the nation, with busy seaports, the Interstate 95 corridor, Newark Liberty International Airport, and railways connecting New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C. The funding doesn’t even include the long-sought Gateway tunnel under the Hudson River.

Gov. Phil Murphy, during his Nov. 8 COVID-19 media briefing, described the bill as a “game changer” for the Garden State. “There is no lack of roads or bridges needing repair,” Murphy said. “There is no lacking for upgraded mass transit networks, including buses and ferries, no lack of need for electric vehicle charging stations, for improved internet connectivity, and on and on. All of this is covered in this bill.”

The Gateway tunnel is more than a century old and in dire need of repair, especially after damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. It’s a critical link in the Northeast Corridor, one of the world’s most heavily traveled rail stretches in the world, running the length of the northeast megalopolis.

Its railway is used by its owner, Amtrak, and in New Jersey, by NJ Transit. Advocates warn that if the Hudson tunnel goes offline in even one direction, commuters would be forced to use other modes of transportation and the regional economy would be crippled.

“If you shut down all passenger service on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, the projects that compensate for the loss — you’d have to add seven new lanes of highway on [Interstate 95],” Biden said at May appearance in Philadelphia to celebrate Amtrak’s 50th anniversary. “And consider that cost — average of $30 million for a linear mile on I-95.”

The infrastructure package, according to Amtrak Chair Tony Coscia, could spark a “whole new era for improved and expanded Amtrak service,” especially through “historic levels of investment for intercity passenger rail.”

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, New Jersey has 502 bridges and nearly 4,000 miles of highway in poor condition, costing the average New Jersey driver over $700 in vehicle repairs. “Infrastructure has always been something where we’ve had tremendous [return on investment], every dollar spent turns to much more than a dollar in the broader economy,” Greg Lalevee, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825, said in an interview this spring after Biden unveiled the infrastructure proposal.

The union is posed to do work on some of these mammoth projects – Gateway and the South Jersey wind port, to name two. “Anything that the government can put into infrastructure spending is momentum for the entire economy,” Lalevee added.

Gov. Phil Murphy welcomed the federal funds. “There is no lack of roads or bridges needing repair,” he said during a recent briefing. – EDWIN J. TORRES/NJ GOVERNOR’S OFFICE –

Under the infrastructure package, New Jersey could get $7.9 billion to repair its highways, roads and bridges and $4.1 billion to improve its public transit, according to an estimate from the Democratic U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross’ office.

There would be $1 billion to improve water infrastructure, Norcross’ office estimated. That could range from the removal of lead pipes to better stormwater management systems as flooding, storms and hurricanes become more frequent and more severe.

“At a time when New Jersey’s drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems must address threats to public health and safety, this funding cannot come soon enough,” Chris Sturm, managing director of policy and water at New Jersey Future, said in a Nov. 8 statement.

Another $272 million would go toward expanded airport infrastructure and $104 million for a more extensive statewide electric vehicle charging network. Murphy set an ambitious goal of putting 330,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025, which would require more public and privately owned charging stations. As of May, about 40,000 EVs were on the roads and environmentalists warn that the lack of charging stations – or a perceived shortage – will continue to be a major barrier.

The state’s EV goal is part of the Murphy administration’s efforts to have the state entirely reliant on clean, renewable energy – what he’s dubbed a “clean energy economy” revolving around renewables like solar and offshore wind, by 2050, with an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases.

Part of those efforts include producing 7.5 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2035, and a goal unveiled on Nov. 10 of bringing greenhouse gas emissions to 50% their 2006 levels by 2030, which a target shared by the Biden administration.

The package would “confront the ongoing crises by reducing pollution, tackling climate change and addressing environmental injustice while creating jobs in the hardest-hit Black and Brown  communities,” said Ed Potosnak, who heads the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, in a statement.

Another $100 million would help expand broadband coverage, $17 million would safeguard against cyberattacks on infrastructure, and $15 million would be available  to protect against wildfires.

“The investment will generate thousands of good paying jobs and help upgrade our infrastructure, the foundation of New Jersey’s economy,” said Tom Bracken, the CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, in a Nov. 8 statement. “Now New Jersey state leaders have a rare chance to work in tandem with their Washington counterparts to really ignite our state’s economy.”