New Jersey charts the future for commuters and travel as we return to normal | Opinion

By Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti

New Jersey is emerging from this global pandemic and our residents and commuters are once again returning to our roads and transit systems. Governor Murphy often discusses the need to build back better from the pandemic, and New Jersey’s transportation agencies are playing a central role in implementing this vision. We are advancing Governor Murphy’s goals for a clean energy economy and tackling the climate crisis, creating thousands of good-paying jobs, and providing access to communities that have been left behind – and we are doing so collaboratively and transparently.

The record is clear — from our work to preparing to meet Gov. Phil Murphy’s ambitious Energy Master Plan goals, to record levels of investment in transit, to deploying smart strategies across multiple transportation agencies to better build infrastructure — the transportation landscape in New Jersey is changing, for the better. New Jersey’s transportation agencies are integrated in statewide planning efforts, and working together to bring our nearly 9 million residents the unified network of roads, transit and ports and other transportation facilities that will ensure the state’s economic future and quality of life for decades to come.

At the heart of these efforts is clear planning across and between agencies. Every project that is advanced by the NJDOT and by NJ Transit is reflected in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The development of the STIP, and any projects that are added, modified, or removed, is the culmination of a robust public process that includes elected local officials who will weigh in on proposed projects. Even after this process is completed, individual projects are subject to another public process in which public information sessions are held (virtually these days) so residents can ask questions of technical staff and experts. Often, there is a public hearing where residents and advocacy groups can present their concerns in a formal setting. New Jersey residents have a voice in planning for the future.

Under the Murphy administration, and my leadership, NJDOT, NJ Transit, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and South Jersey Transportation Authority are more community-focused than ever. Whether from Woodbine to Union City, or Hope to Lambertville, we are focused on solutions that are community-driven. We directly support 565 municipalities as they develop their vision for their hometowns and in prioritizing aid, consider equity so that our most vulnerable communities have a better opportunity to participate in these programs. And when solutions require agency collaboration today, it is a seamless activity.

No governor in recent history has been as supportive of transportation and public transit as Governor Murphy. In the past three years, he has provided over $1 billion to fund NJ Transit’s farebox shortfalls. He has endorsed the start of the new North Brunswick Train Station to serve a transit-oriented development and announced major investments to improve Newark Penn Station. No one fought harder for the federal funding match for the Portal North Bridge project. And through the SJTA, he approved a capital program that includes the advancement of the Glassboro to Camden light rail line. Speaking of SJTA, its program of providing job access to reverse commute services will only become stronger with the capital investment that results from the recent toll adjustment.

We also are on the frontlines of ensuring that the state is well-positioned to tackle the climate crisis and to deploy zero-emissions personal, commercial and transit vehicles across New Jersey. The NJDOT staff participates in any number of initiatives sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, and the newly created Governor’s Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy, to name a few. We are at the table and we are doing our part to address the pressing environmental issues facing New Jersey.

Did you know that all service areas on the New Jersey Turnpike are outfitted with electric vehicle chargers — EV2s, EV3s and Tesla? Did you know that NJDOT, NJ Transit, NJTA and SJTA are working together to build an electric vehicle charging network so that we can convert light-duty vehicles to electric? Did you know that the NJDOT was invited to participate in the Partnership to Plug-in so we can share our plan and assist the state with its full plan? Or that NJ Transit is working toward a plan to support 100% zero-emissions buses? I will guess the answer to these questions is no.

The four major transportation agencies in New Jersey have never been more forward-facing, and well-coordinated. Building back New Jersey better will require transportation agencies to be more unified than we ever have before. The governor will have it no other way and neither will I.

Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti is the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation. She chairs the boards of NJ Transit, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority.

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