New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti identified resiliency and reliability as the cornerstones of effective transportation in New Jersey in a keynote speech Monday at the Newark Regional Business Partnership’s transportation symposium at the Best Western Robert Treat Hotel in Newark.
Gutierrez-Scaccetti discussed New Jersey during the six years since Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012, causing catastrophic flooding and destruction. Because of that storm, New Jersey built a stronger system of transportation and can better withstand storms, she said.
“In New Jersey, we have a strong system of state highways that were maintained over the years,” she said. “But Hurricane Sandy made transportation officials look at the infrastructure.”
“We will do as much as we can to make sure you have a reliable transportation system,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti added. “The most important aspect of reliability and resiliency is to return the system to a state of good repair.”
In advance of Wednesday, the busiest travel day of the year, NJDOT is coordinating with the New Jersey State Police, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, she said.
Last Thursday’s snowstorm posed travel challenges because it dropped more snow than forecasters predicted, resulting in many commuters being stuck in traffic. Gutierrez-Scaccetti said she looks at multiple weather forecasts and learned from the most recent storm that most people will find alternate routes if they are notified hours in advance with an accurate forecast, she said.
Regarding the $20 billion Gateway Tunnel infrastructure project, she said New Jersey residents cannot afford the Portal North Bridge getting stuck in the open position. It strands New Jersey Transit and Amtrak commuters, causing a bottleneck that impacts commuters as far away as Washington, D.C., and Boston.
The Gateway Tunnel infrastructure project will feature the first new tunnel to be built under the Hudson River in more than 80 years and the placement of the 108-year-old Portal North Bridge, eliminating a single point of failure on the Northeast Corridor.
“We have to make tough decisions so our children and grandchildren want to live in New Jersey,” she said.
Eric Daleo, assistant executive director of capital programs and planning at New Jersey Transit, summarized Gov. Phil Murphy’s ordering of an audit of the transit system. The audit identified a need to improve procurement methods.
Beyond the audit, Daleo gave an update on the federally mandated positive train control, a system of assisted breaking capacity that automatically applies breaks if trains exceed a specified speed.
New Jersey Transit has completed 88 percent of the installation of positive train control equipment on vehicles and will meet the Dec. 31 federal deadline to install positive train control, Daleo said.
New Jersey Transit has also made adjustments since Hurricane Sandy.
“One of the key areas in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is the location of equipment so we have embarked on a project in New Brunswick above the base flood elevation,” Daleo said. “It allows us to perform federally mandated inspections.”
“We are trying to move projects that will enable New Jersey Transit to weather and withstand future weather events,” he added.