New Jersey transportation officials are awarding $161 million in state grants to 544 separate municipalities to pay for work on roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects throughout the Garden State.
The annual grants are awarded by the New Jersey Department of Transportation and come out of the state-run Transportation Trust Fund, an eight-year, $16 billion pool of funding to finance local infrastructure projects.
Most of the grants are being used by local governments to upgrade and maintain roads, though there are a number for bridge maintenance, pedestrian safety, “quality of life” projects—such as streetscapes, and bikeways and trails.
The goal of the grants, according to an Oct. 26 statement from NJDOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, is to pay for these projects “without burdening local property taxpayers.”
“These funds are crucial to municipalities for the completion of projects that improve quality of life and safety for New Jersey residents,” added Gov. Phil Murphy in the Tuesday statement.
Some of the largest grants include nearly $2.9 million for road work across Newark, $1.76 million for improvement projects in Jersey City, and $1 million to Camden tor roadwork and resurfacing.
State officials say 547 municipalities filed 625 applications requesting a total of $363 million, almost double what was ultimately awarded.
Transportation Trust Fund
The TTF is financed primarily through the gas tax, which is levied on gasoline and diesel sales to motorists and truck drivers. As gas consumption goes up, the tax goes down, and vice versa.
With stay-at-home orders, bans on non-essential travel and overall anxiety about public health, travel – and by extension gas consumption – cratered in 2020, driving up the tax rate that year. At the time, State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio and Murphy both stressed that because of legislation former Gov. Chris Christie signed regarding the TTF, their hands were tied and they were unable to prevent an increase.
The rate went down on Oct. 1, 2021.
Murphy – who is facing reelection in November – said last year that he was “open” to redoing how the gas tax is calculated, but maintained that he has little, if nothing, to do with the increase in the tax. “Am I open-minded down the road to reassessing how it’s calculated?” he said. “As long as we can keep the TTF viable and again, the prior administration allowed it to go bankrupt.”
Any changes to how the gas tax is calculated would need to pass out of the state Legislature and then be signed into law.
As more electric cars, hybrid and fuel-efficient vehicles make their way onto New Jersey roads, transportation officials and lawmakers have eyed how to recapture lost revenue from gas that might not need to be filled up at the pump. One proposal floated in March by the nonprofit Eastern Transportation Coalition calls for enacting a mileage-based user fee determined by how many miles a motorist has driven.