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NJ Transportation Work Stoppage Rolls On

Monday, August 22, 2016

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More than six weeks after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered a shutdown of state road and bridge projects, he is asking state officials to free up funds for emergency road and rail work, while construction firms and workers are exploring their options.

Warning that the State Transportation Trust Fund Authority (TTFA) is now “days away from exhausting all of its available funds,” Christie issued Executive Order 213 Wednesday (Aug. 17), directing the state treasurer to transfer “from any State department to the TTFA such amounts as are determined to be necessary” to fund emergency projects.

Chris Christie
By Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Governor Chris Christie announced his enactment of Executive Order 213, with the State Transportation Trust Fund Authority days away from exhausting all of its available funds, as a means to free up funds for urgent projects.

The emergency work stoppage went into effect July 8 after the state legislature failed to approve a proposed gas tax increase intended to replenish state’s Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) and Christie determined the TTF would be out of funds by late summer.

Nearly $3.5 billion worth of bridge, road and mass transit renovations deemed nonessential were put on hold in an effort to conserve what little money remained in the TTF while lawmakers continued to work at finding a funding solution.

Since then, “No evident progress has been made by the Legislature to pass a single, viable bill to reauthorize the TTFA,” Governor Christie said in a statement.

“A well-maintained transportation infrastructure is essential to the operation of New Jersey's economy and the people who rely upon it in all aspects of their daily lives,” he added. “The current situation will persist until the Senate and the General Assembly pass an acceptable TTFA funding bill. Until they do so, the State must use money from the General Fund for emergency road, bridge, and mass transportation work.”

Christie’s office explained that Executive Order 213 directs the state treasurer to make general funds available for expenses determined to be absolutely essential for the protection of the health, safety and welfare of state residents, or that are required to ensure the receipt of federal funding, in accordance with Executive Order 210, which ordered the stoppage, until the governor determines an emergency no longer exists.

Construction Teams Struggle

Meanwhile, as the stoppage continues, county officials across the state are reaching out to one another about what they are doing to keep projects alive and what it means financially, the New Jersey Herald reported.

Areas of concern include the costs of restaging work areas and the impact of unanticipated conditions, such as winter weather, which would call for additional work—and funds—to finish the projects.

When it comes to those additional costs, sources cited Anthony Attanasio, executive director of the Utility and Transportation Contractors Association, as noting that contractors “are going to start filing claims because those unanticipated costs were not created by any doing of the contractor."

Similarly, Hudson and Union counties have notified the New Jersey Department of Transportation they will file a notice of claim against it because, "By its actions, the State breached its contract with the County to provide the allocated funding for the numerated Projects," the Herald noted.

An American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) economic analysis of the stoppage in July estimated the initial week-long closure would cost the transportation construction industry and New Jersey taxpayers at least $41 million and displace as many as 1,700 construction workers.

As the shutdown continues, costs could grow to as high as $1.3 million per day—or $9 million per week—in lost sales, wages and economic activity throughout the state, according to Dr. Alison Premo Black, the report’s author and ARTBA’s chief economist.

Over time, the reduction in demand could affect another 1,500 non-construction jobs, Black added.

“There are no winners in this situation,” Black said in the association’s announcement. “Important transportation projects that are designed to improve safety and reduce traffic congestion will come to a grinding halt. Workers will be sidelined and lose wages. It’s a recipe for market chaos.”

Prolonged Unemployment Fears

The workers themselves are also taking action in an attempt to encourage lawmakers to find a solution.

Members of the Laborers International Union of North America held rallies outside political offices across the state Wednesday (Aug. 17), the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The shutdown has put 1,000 members of the union out of work during peak construction season, a spokesman told the paper.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney reportedly indicated he didn’t expect a fix until after the November election, NorthJersey.com wrote.

November is too late for most of the state’s laid-off transportation workers, as many sites begin to shut down at that time with the approach of cold weather, Roger Ellis, a lobbyist for the Heavy and General Construction Laborers Local 472, indicated.

A decision in November would keep the laid-off workers unemployed for eight months, until the start of the spring construction season. As a result, workers face fears that unemployment benefits will run out and they will lapse on bills and lose health insurance.

“If they don’t figure something out until November, most of us won’t work till March,” said Danny Silva, 49, a road crew foreman told the regional news site. “If that happens, I could lose my home.”

Looking Ahead

One transportation expert has warned that a solution is unlikely to come more quickly.

Martin E. Robins told the news site that the problem stems from political officials striving to meet voters’ conflicting demands: the desire for safe, well-maintained, congestion-free transportation infrastructure versus a reluctance to pay for it and a resistance to a gas tax increase.

“As residents’ demands outpaced the state’s ability to pay for them, politicians of both parties filled in the difference through borrowing,” the news site noted.

“It fell apart because of demands for money to be spent and no willingness to raise taxes,” said Robins, former deputy executive director of NJ Transit and founding director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University.

Ju-lee Tretter, a laborer on a road crew repaving the Betsy Ross Bridge over the Delaware River, doesn’t care about the hows or whys, though.

“I think it’s nonsense,” Tretter said. “They should find an agreement and be done with this. I just want to go back to work.”

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Contractors; Funding; Infrastructure; North America; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways; Transportation; Unions

Comment from Kenneth Brend, (8/22/2016, 8:07 AM)

The last two paragraphs, in a nutshell, summarize exactly why we are doomed as a country. Not enough people care to know why we are in the situation we are in. Maybe Obama can fire up the printing presses. After all, it's only paper and ink; how much can that cost...


Comment from Tony Rangus, (8/22/2016, 9:56 AM)

All the last two paragraphs tell me is that those who are complaining are a bunch of crybabies. Do what the many, many thousands of decent folks who get laid off every month. Go out and find employment elsewhere. They don't moan & groan. There are 50 states to look at and there are jobs.


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