SUMMIT, NJ — On Tuesday, July 12, at 1 p.m. the media swarmed to a press conference located at the intersection of Morris Avenue and Springfield Avenue in Summit. The location marked the site of the Morris Avenue Bridge Replacement Project. Forward New Jersey, a coalition representing more than 1.5 million New Jersey residents and more than 140,000 New Jersey businesses have come together to raise awareness about New Jersey’s transportation funding crisis.
A motorist traveling past the site shouted an obscenity as he confronted the roadblock on Springfield Avenue and was forced to travel another route. The Morris Avenue Bridge Replacement Project is just one of the many roadway projects that have been put on hold due to the financial situation. The bridge, which is being replaced to improve structural integrity, increase load carrying capacity, and improve traffic, pedestrian and railroad safety is on Morris Avenue, between Springfield Avenue and Kent Place Boulevard. It is completely shut down.
On June 30, Governor Christie issued Executive Order No. 210 and put the Morris Avenue project on a list of non-essential projects that are up for review; only projects paid for by federal funds and projects deemed “absolutely essential” will continue.
“It is imperative that our elected officials hear that the Morris Avenue bridge replacement project needs to be included on the essential projects list,” explains Summit Mayor Nora Radest in a recent press release. “I encourage each of you to call or email the Governor, Assembly Speaker Prieto and Senate Majority Leader Sweeney today. We need to work together to help make this happen.”
A report issued by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association indicated that the recent shutdown of projects is costing New Jersey 4,200 jobs, $41 million in work stoppage costs and $9 million in weekly lost sales and wages. Money has been drained from the Transportation Trust Fund, impacting motorists and road workers throughout the state. Forward NJ hosted a press conference to call for legislative action to be taken in order to resolve this crisis.
“There can be no more delay when it comes to funding these projects,” said Tom Bracken of Forward NJ. “This lack of funding has had a ripple effect on the state. What we cannot afford is for legislatures to point their fingers and wait for someone else to make the first move.”
The Executive order is already causing problems in the state.
“At least 88 projects have been delayed, and more than 800 workers have been laid off” said CEO of the Utilities and Transportation Contractors Association of New Jersey Bobby Bryant Jr. “People are being laid off both inside and outside the projects. These people depend on the transportation industry for their paychecks. There will be additional layoffs in the near future. Some employees were able to be shifted to other projects, but this just happened in a very short amount of time. If this issue isn’t resolved by the end of this week, there will be another couple hundred people laid off. This period of time is the height of the construction season. This is where they make their hours; this is where they make their overtime. This is where they make enough money to get through the winter. This could reach 1,700 people laid off and there’s also the engineering community and the inspection side of this.”
Cathleen Lewis of AAA spoke on behalf of its 2 million members and the millions of motorists in the state. She explained how the current delays impact the conditions of other roadways that need to be taken instead of the one that are blocked. She also emphasized the importance of legislatures to take immediate action.
“Tourists are finding roadblocks like this across the state,” said Lewis. “It’s time for the legislature and governor to stop using the safety of our roadways as a bargaining chip. We do not have time to allow the safety of our roads to continue to deteriorate. Every day, our roads are getting worse. Every day that someone cannot use this road, and uses an alternative, that road gets additional wear and tear and needs to be repaired even more. We need to stop, and find a solution. There is a paradisian consensus that the Transportation Trust Fund needs to be funded. There is a paradisian consensus that this is a crisis. We need to implore Trenton to get to work and find us a solution.”