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The drive to survive

Trucking companies must put pedal to the metal to surive challenges in Garden State

By - Last modified: August 29, 2013 at 3:35 PM

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The Garden State has no shortage of outsized infrastructure projects these days, from plans to raise, renovate and rebuild bridges around its northern port region to the five-year-long program to widen 35 miles of the New Jersey Turnpike.

But each project also is a constant reminder of the cost of doing business here, as trucking companies weigh that cost against the need for well-maintained roadways and operating in a major population center.

For the firms on this year's NJBIZ listing of the top 100 privately held businesses, the balancing act is a full-time job.

"We are committed to infrastructure improvement, and we're committed to paying our fair share," said Thomas Connery, chief operating officer with New England Motor Freight (27), based in Elizabeth. But he also echoed a familiar theme among trucking firms: the high tolls.

The industry in recent years has steered its anger toward the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which is halfway through a four-year plan to raise tolls at its crossings. When the hikes were finalized in August 2011, the agency said they would help fund a $25 billion, 10-year capital plan.

But the steepest costs are borne by truckers, and Connery noted that by late 2015, the largest trucks will pay more than $100 to cross the George Washington Bridge. "In this economy, we simply can't pass those increases along to our customers," he said.

Shouldering the load is one of many challenges faced by the trucking industry, said Anne Strauss-Wieder, a Westfield-based logistics consultant. But the work is largely unavoidable in New Jersey. With a long history of manufacturing and distribution, the state is filled with "legacy infrastructure," or "roadways that may have grown up with us that have to work with a 21st-century economy," she said.

"Everyone is trying to work with what we have and trying to improve it," Strauss-Wieder said. "And similar to having an older home, that comes with additional costs."

Connery said increases in state and federal fuel taxes would create a more equitable way to distribute infrastructure costs, though he acknowledged that "politically, it's a hot potato." If nothing else, he said, better communication would be a good start: "When roadway improvement projects are undertaken, we don't believe there's enough consultation with the industry to discuss what the impact might be on New Jersey-based businesses."

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Joshua Burd

Joshua Burd

Josh Burd covers real estate, economic development and sports and entertainment. Before joining NJBIZ in 2011, he spent four years as a metro reporter in Central Jersey. His email is joshb@njbiz.com and he is @JoshBurdNJ on Twitter.

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