If the state is serious in trying to attract Amazon.com’s vaunted HQ2 facility (or any other business, for that matter), it desperately needs to relieve its perpetual traffic jams.
While one of NJ’s main selling points to businesses looking to move to the state is that it’s a stone’s throw away from New York City and Philadelphia, that advantage won’t make a difference if one is constantly stuck in traffic trying to get to either place. You can also bet that the state’s clogged roadways will be a factor when Amazon chooses the location of its sought-after HQ2.
According to Titlemax’s 2017 Congestion Index, which divides the number of registered vehicles by the total miles of roads in each state, New Jersey’s 176.1 score ranks third only behind Hawaii and Washington, D.C. as having the most traffic congestion – that is, for every mile of road in the Garden State, there are over 176 cars.
According to a study by the Auto Insurance Center, two cities – Hoboken and Weehawken – ranked among the top cities in America in terms of the most #roadrage Instagram posts. In 2015, a study by the American Highway Users Alliance listed the portions of the NJ Turnpike leading up to the Lincoln Tunnel and Fort Lee to be among the Top 10 most congested roads in the entire U.S.
You don’t need to read a traffic study, however, to know that we have a traffic problem, all you need to do is hop in your car and drive – anywhere. The state’s traffic problems could make one harken back to the 2008 film "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle". While the film, set in northern New Jersey, features crude and sophomoric humor, its basic plot is one that New Jerseyans can certainly relate to: what should be a simple excursion to White Castle turns into a harrowing, all night road trip in part because the traffic in the state is so bad.
Indeed, simple trips in the state often take three- to four-times longer than they should. What should be a 20 minute commute from North Edison to NJBIZ’s offices in Somerset – to use a personal example – often takes up to an hour because of traffic congestion on the northbound side of Interstate 287.
Fixing it won’t be easy, but we need to make sure we have the proper funding measures in place. Sure, Gov. Chris Christie extended the state’s Transportation Trust Fund by $32 billion over eight years last year, but that money will merely provide patchwork to roads that already exist, such as repairing bridges, re-paving roadways, etc.
Billions of more dollars will be needed to provide New Jersey with what it truly needs to fix its roads and remain competitive: new express lanes, new highways, new bridges and various road-widening projects, just to name a few.
In 2015, Christie mysteriously vetoed a bill that would have allowed the state’s Department of Transportation to engage in public-private-partnerships for major road projects. Allowing the state’s DOT to engage in well-written contracts to allow private entities to finance, construct and maintain major road projects would save the state money and give the state’s transportation system a much needed boost.
The Port Authority is already engaging in P3s to upgrade the terminals at Newark Liberty International Airport and to construct a new Goethal’s Bridge. The P3 financing option is being explored to construct the $20 billion gateway project to build an underwater tunnel connecting Northern NJ and downtown Manhattan. The state needs to get with the times and allow the NJ DOT to have the P3 option as one of tools in its financing tool box.
During Opportunity NJ’s Affordability Summit in September, McKinsey & Co.’s Steve Van Kuiken told the audience that “we’re spending money to maintain old infrastructure. We have to focus on future-oriented infrastructure, we have to optimize capital spending, spend more money on transportation in the most heavily used corridors. So this doesn’t mean spending more money, it just means prioritizing where we spend money. We need to rebalance traffic flows.”
And this is a guy who advises companies on whether to move to New Jersey. Hopefully the new governor heeds that advice.