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Is N.J. on road to ruin? Trust fund for roads, bridges is nearly gone Spotlight on Transportation

Trust fund for roads, bridges is on the verge of depletion

The Kingsland Avenue Bridge, which crosses the Passaic River and connects Lyndhurst and Nutley, is considered to be “functionally obsolete.”-(PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)

New Jersey is located within a day’s drive of 40 percent of the U.S. population — a dream scenario for companies in manufacturing, freight and other industries.

But it’s not one that necessarily will last forever.

Members of the business community are sounding the alarm that if the state does not find a way to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund — a scenario they say is less than a year away — the state is in serious trouble.

The time to do something, they say, is now.

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 “We don’t want to get to a critical point where people wake up only when a disaster strikes, when a bridge falls in or something,” said Michael Egenton, senior vice president of government relations for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce.

 And here’s what business leaders say is the scary part: A potential catastrophe is just a small part of what could go wrong if nothing is done.

 If critical projects are abandoned and roads are no longer properly maintained, it could make hauling merchandise difficult — and companies no longer will want to come to the Garden State. And New Jersey’s oft-touted talent pool may slowly disappear as people look elsewhere to live and work.

 How did it come to this? The reason actually is pretty simple.

After years of borrowing, current allocations to the trust fund are hardly sufficient to keep pace with past debt, never mind infrastructure work that may be needed in the future. As of next July, every penny the fund takes in will be needed for debt service.

In May, in one of his final pieces of testimony before state lawmakers, former Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson explained where this road has led: fiscal year 2016 has a $620 million budget gap — with no backup funding sources and nothing in the reserves.

Basically, it’s worse than an empty coffer. It’s one we still owe money for.

Brett Johnson