S. Jersey counties get more road aid
The change in the state's formula proved costly to urban areas in North Jersey.
Faring much better in the new Transportation Trust Fund allocations are the eight South Jersey counties below I-195, with all except Camden receiving more money.
The winners are Ocean, Cumberland, Gloucester, Sussex, Salem, Burlington, Warren, Hunterdon, Somerset, Cape May and Atlantic Counties. The losers are Bergen, Union, Essex, Middlesex, Passaic, Hudson, Camden, Monmouth, Mercer and Morris Counties.
The state is still distributing the same $78.6 million in the 2014 fiscal year that it did in fiscal 2013, but the way the money is being handed out has changed for the first time since the Transportation Trust Fund started in 1984.
A point of contention among urban counties is the methodology used to count roads strictly by the number of miles, and not by how congested they are.
In Hudson County, where $372,913 less will go toward road and bridge repairs, County Executive Tom DeGise said the roads take a beating, often by drivers visiting from other New Jersey counties to go to their jobs.
He lives just two miles from his office, yet said, "It took me about a half-hour to go those two miles, because of all the paving and road projects going on."
DeGise, also first vice chair of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, called for a supplemental appropriation in December of $5.8 million to hold the losing counties at their past levels without penalizing those that got raises under the new funding method.
"I'm not looking to try to take the windfall away from the rural counties that have received more money this year. I'm not looking to put my hand in somebody else's pocket," he said. "But certain minimums should be guaranteed."
The change in the way the money is distributed was made last year by the Legislature.
Counties used to get money through a funding source known as Federal Aid to Urban Systems. Even after the funding was disbanded in 1991, the state gave counties the same allotment as the FAUS money until this year.
"It's an equitable, fair way to do it," Department of Transportation spokesman Joe Dee said. "Population is a way to look at how much wear and tear a road gets. The number of miles of county highways you have indicates the amount of work a county needs to do to maintain the county roads."
DeGise said the funding shortfall won't mean bridges will end up collapsing into the water.
"We have a responsibility to maintain it, and we will," he said.
Still, he said. "it means there will be $372,000 less in road paving and road repairs," in addition to taking longer to get to other needed projects.
Warren County in western New Jersey, which has seen its population sprout over the last two decades, is one of the counties that have benefited from the funding change, receiving $424,758 more.
"Transportation funding is extremely important in our state, due to the intense use our highways get," Warren County Freeholder Director Jason J. Sarnoski said, pointing to all the major cities in New Jersey, as well as New York City and Philadelphia just across the state's borders.
Ocean County was the biggest winner, getting $1.2 million more than last year, while Bergen County lost the most, $1.4 million.
"It would be easy to yell politics on this, but Bergen County is governed by a Republican county executive," DeGise said. "Monmouth also tends to be a Republican county."