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Building contractors support state transportation infrastructure bank

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A proposal to establish a new state transportation infrastructure bank is receiving backing from contractors, who see it as a means of tapping a new federal transportation financing program.

Legislators reviewed a bill, A-3177 and S-2143, on Thursday that would establish the bank, which would use both state and federal funding to finance highway and transit projects.

“We need to have an infrastructure bank in place,” said Evan Piscitelli, government affairs director of the Utility & Transportation Contractors Association.

Under a new federal law, the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, states can apply for us much as $1.75 billion in loans, loan guarantees and lines of credit over the next two years to finance transportation projects.

The bill would put the infrastructure bank in charge of these applications, with assistance from the state Department of Transportation.

The bill would make the bank part of the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust, and would replace a dormant program overseen by state transportation officials.

Piscitelli said that organization is the appropriate home for the bank because it has a track record of putting federal funding to work on state projects. The trust currently oversees drinking water and sewer projects.

Michael Travostino, government affairs director of the Building Contractors Association of New Jersey, also supported the bill.

Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-Mount Laurel), a bill sponsor, said the state must act to leverage federal financing.

“We don’t have that ability currently, and I think by adopting what we’re looking to do here, we’ll afford an opportunity to really maximize our dollars and be able to move construction projects along faster,” Singleton told the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee on Thursday.

Singleton expressed an interest in having the infrastructure bank support public-private projects on toll roads and bridges. He added that union pension funds could support projects that generate steady revenue and put union labor to work. “So for us, it’s sort of the best of both worlds,” he said.

Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Scotch Plains), another bill sponsor, said she thought the bank should support new projects, rather than maintaining existing projects.

Assemblyman David W. Wolfe (R-Brick) expressed concern that a provision of the bill mandating the work be done by workers who have completed apprenticeships would increase the cost of projects.

New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel opposed the bill, saying while the goal was notable, it ran the risk of affecting the focus of the environmental infrastructure trust.

Piscitelli said he is hopeful that the bill will be passed before the end of this calendar year, allowing the application for federal financing to be filed in 2013.

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