We assembled a panel of industry experts to tackle this month’s question.
Here’s what they had to say.
Aisha Glover, CEO and president, Newark Community Economic Development Corp. (Newark)
New Jersey’s transit system and Newark’s location in the center of it has long been one of our most valuable economic assets. Places well-served by rapid, convenient, dependable transit are more attractive to business and residents. It’s a major reason why companies like Prudential, Audible, Panasonic and more call Newark home. Good transit service also means less traffic on our roads and reduces asthma-inducing emissions for highway adjacent neighborhoods. However, demand for transit has begun to outstrip the state’s capacity to supply it and has placed significant strain on aging equipment. NJ Transit’s capital budget has been repeatedly diverted to cover operating costs and we have not made the investments necessary to keep the system robust. We need to invest in the reliability and service of the existing system (including options within the city proper) and also plan for expanding bus rapid transit, light rail and PATH. New Jersey’s future growth and economic capacity depends on it.
Marc Hudock, LSRP, vice president, GZA Geoenvironmental Inc. (Fairfield)
New Jersey’s infrastructure approach should be bold and comprehensive, focused on improving mass transit, decreasing congestion, supporting revitalization of urban centers and promoting commercial prosperity. Improvements to Newark Liberty International Airport and the NJ Transit system are necessary for New Jersey to merit top ranking on site selection lists. Improvements to ports will support e-commerce. Brownfield sites — plentiful in New Jersey — are the low-hanging fruit relative to siting new distribution centers and should be contemplated when planning infrastructure upgrades. Investment in dams and reservoirs is also critical to supporting growth. GZA has extensive experience working on major infrastructure projects in the region — New York City’s Second Avenue subway, the Bayonne Bridge “Raise the Roadway” project, the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, LaGuardia Airport work — and hopes to see more of those transformative types of projects in New Jersey. It is encouraging to see the Gateway Tunnel and Portal Bridge unfold.
Peter Kasabach, executive director, New Jersey Future (Trenton)
We talk about the state of our roads, bridges, rails and tunnels because it’s easy to see they’re in disrepair. But another much less visible category of infrastructure is even more in need of investment: our water systems. Some water mains in our older communities date back a century or more; some are made of wood or brick and are held in place only by the dirt in which they’re buried. For generations we have under-invested in these systems, and as our cities and towns grow and revitalize, the pressure on this antiquated infrastructure only increases. In addition, 21 cities in New Jersey have outdated sewage-treatment systems that regularly overflow during rainstorms, sending raw sewage into waterways, streets, parks and even basements. The price tag for fixing all of this will run into the billions of dollars over the next generation, but, as we’ve learned, the cost of not investing is even greater.
Greg Lalevee, business manager, IUOE Local 825 (Springfield)
By far and away, New Jersey’s greatest infrastructure need is to the build the Gateway project. The two rail tubes under the Hudson River are barely hanging on and if we don’t get the federal funding to replace them we will face an existential economic crisis. Keep in mind, if we lose the ability to train into New York, it’s not only New Jersey that will suffer — it’s the entire Northeast Corridor, which is home to 20 percent of the U.S. GDP. Losing rail access from even one tunnel costs the U.S. economy $100 million a day. Closer to home, the property value of real estate in New Jersey, especially along the rail corridors, will plummet and undoubtedly will freeze future construction. Working in a bipartisan way, we need our entire congressional delegation along with Gov. Murphy to push this to the top of the president’s agenda.
Jennifer Porter, member, Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi PC (West Orange)
While New Jersey has witnessed recent infrastructure success stories for bridges and ports with the raising of the Bayonne Bridge and the replacement of the Goethals Bridge, funding for and improvements to aging roadway, railway and storm water infrastructure is critical to support further development. New Jersey should consider following suit with other states by creating storm water utilities to establish user fees as a way to pay for much-needed storm water improvements. Likewise, to alleviate some of the financial constraints associated with necessary roadway improvement projects, municipalities and counties should take advantage of New Jersey’s first transportation loan program, established under the Transportation Trust Fund. Finally, funding for and implementation of the Gateway Program, the first phase of which includes the Portal North Bridge Project and the Hudson Tunnel Project, is essential to the future success of the region by maintaining resiliency and increasing capacity for a critical component of the Northeast Corridor.
Christine Roy, partner, Rutter & Roy LLP (Freehold)
New Jersey will need to focus on expanding its energy infrastructure to meet increased demand. About 75 percent of the state’s households rely on natural gas as their primary heating fuel, 12 percent use electric heat and 10 percent depend on heating oil. Transmission projects like natural gas pipelines and electric transmission lines are needed to support current energy usage. As demand increases in the future, the need for infrastructure that will not only generate this energy, but transport and transmit it, will increase as well. In addition, New Jersey’s renewable portfolio standard was updated in 2018 to require that 21 percent of the electricity sold in the state be generated from renewable sources by 2021, 35 percent by 2025 and 50 percent by 2030. This means that investing in renewables like offshore wind projects and solar will be critical over the next 10 to 15 years.