Senate President Stephen Sweeney
Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli
Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro

Burlignton County Times — New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s statewide
tour of deficient bridges continued Friday with a stop at the
Centerton Road bridge, which was described as the worst of over a
dozen structurally deficient spans in Burlington County.

Sweeney, D-3rd of West Deptford, visited the bridge with Assemblyman
Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, and Burlington County Board of
Freeholders Director Bruce Garganio as part of his effort to bring
attention to New Jersey’s crumbling infrastructure and the need to
find funding for the state’s Transportation Trust Fund.

The Centerton Road structure was the fifth bridge the senator has
visited in recent weeks. He said it provided more proof of the dire
condition of much of the state’s crucial transportation system.

According to Sweeney’s office, the bridge was built in 1903 and its
sufficiency rating was the worst of any bridge in Burlington County.
About 14,000 vehicles use it daily.

“The state is supposed to maintain these bridges and highways and
provide funding for them,” Sweeney said in a statement. “These are the
basic necessities that we have to provide as government. People have
to be assured that infrastructure and transportation is safe and
reliable.”

The issue of New Jersey’s poorly maintained roads and bridges is
exacerbated by the impending insolvency of the Transportation Trust
Fund, which is the primary mechanism used by the state to finance
highway and transit projects.

The fund receives most of its revenue from the state’s gasoline tax as
well as some motor vehicle fees. But after decades of borrowing, all
the money from the state’s gasoline tax is now devoted to pay off debt
service. Without an influx of new money, the state will be unable to
finance crucial highway and bridge repairs or other capital
transportation projects.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-32nd of Secaucus, and Sen. Ray
Lesniak, D-20th of Elizabeth, have proposed increasing the state’s
14.5-cent gas tax to raise revenue to keep the fund solvent, but Gov.
Chris Christie has vowed to block any tax increase sent to him.

So far, the Republican governor has kept the fund solvent by
refinancing some of its debt and canceling the ARC Hudson River rail
tunnel. But his administration has continued to add to the debt load
by borrowing to pay for new transportation projects.

Sweeney hasn’t endorsed boosting the gas tax, but he has said it is
one of several ideas that should be investigated. On Friday, he said
it was also incumbent upon the governor to put forward a plan to deal
with the fund’s impending insolvency.

“We’re going to continue to put pressure on the governor until he puts
forward a plan to show us how we’re going to fund the Transportation
Trust Fund,” Sweeney said. “The governor doesn’t want to address it
for one reason: This is a real tough issue that’s not going to go
away. But our residents deserve to know that their government is doing
everything possible to keep them safe.”

Singleton said the Centerton Road bridge was a compelling example of
why transportation funding was so critical.

“There has been numerous patchwork efforts on this bridge over the
years, but it has not been nearly enough,” he said. “Burlington County
residents can’t afford to continuously have this bridge closed for
this kind of stopgap work. What we need is a plan to properly fund
repairs for our roads and bridges.”

The assemblyman is a sponsor of legislation on Christie’s desk to
create a transportation infrastructure bank that could attract
additional federal funding and private investment dollars to provide
an alternative funding source for transportation projects.

The infrastructure bank bill was passed by both houses of the
Legislature with bipartisan support in June, but Christie has not
taken action on it.