Why does road construction cost so much in New Jersey?
New Jersey's top transportation official said there's a host of reasons why the state is spending more money on its road system than other states spend on their state-controlled road systems.
In 2012, the Garden State spend $2 million per mile on road construction, eight times the national average, according to a report released in 2014 by the Reason Foundation. Massachusetts, California, Florida and Rhode Island spend $500,00 per state-controlled mile, but even those states don't touch New Jersey's high price tag. South Carolina and West Virginia spend just $39,000 per mile of road.
So why is New Jersey spending so much more than other states?
New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox told an Assembly Budget Committee on May 4 that labor and utility costs contribute greatly to the high price tag in the Garden State, but those aren't the only things that drive costs up.
"While there are always ways to be more efficient and we strive to achieve that every day, the fact is that we must recognize certain realities about doing business in this state," Fox said.
The transportation department's staff has been cut in half since the 1980s and capital expenses have been reduced, but it simply costs more to complete transportation projects in the Garden State, according to Fox.
"As one of the most densely populated, congested states in the nation we do not have the luxury of taking lanes out of service for extended periods of time during the day. Working at night to reduce congestion increases costs by 100 percent," Fox said.
Heavy truck traffic also adds to maintenance costs, Fox explained.
"We also have one of the oldest transportation infrastructures in the nation. This requires more extensive work to maintain that infrastructure," Fox said.
New Jersey's Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) is on pace to go broke on July 1, 2016. The high cost of road work is clearly a factor. Fox said his message since becoming commissioner last September has been the state's infrastructure is in disrepair and the TTF is running out of money.
Legislative leaders had been working with Gov. Chris Christie on a funding solution, but an agreement has not been reached. The most often discussed idea is hiking the gas tax, but there is staunch resistance in some political circles. New Jersey's 14.5 cent gas tax has not been increased since 1988.