Trenton - Today five non-profit organizations filed a complaint in Superior Court against Acting Governor Donald DiFrancesco, Acting State Treasurer Peter Lawrence, and the Department of Transportation regarding the State's refusal to follow legislative directives laid down in the 2000 Transportation Trust Fund Reauthorization Act.
In particular, the groups cite the NJ Department of Transportation's failure to adhere to the law's requirements for fixing half of the state's structurally deficient roads and bridges and for building 1,000 new lane-miles of bicycle paths in five years. The groups claim that DOT has rejected the goals set by the legislature and that the agency is not allocating sufficient funds to meet these goals in the agency's 2002 capital program and beyond. The groups also challenge the diversion of $90 million from the Transportation Trust Fund to the General Fund by Acting Governor DiFrancesco and the Acting Treasurer.
"The Governor and the DOT are violating the law," said Janine Bauer, Executive Director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "Voters approved adding more money to the Trust Fund on the pledge that our roads and bridges would be fixed."
"There is enough money to fix half the bridges and build the bike lanes, but it is being spent elsewhere," continued Ms. Bauer.
Many of the bridges and roads drivers cross every day are in poor condition, causing damage to vehicles and exacerbating delays. In response to this need, the legislature included quantifiable goals to reduce the backlog of the state's structurally deficient bridges and road pavement over the next five years in the 2000 Transportation Trust Fund Reauthorization Act. The Reauthorization Act earmarked more of existing gas and auto sales taxes for the Transportation Trust Fund, an action that required voter approval. In November 2000, voters approved assigning more gas and sales tax money to the Transportation Trust Fund by 2-to 1.
The Transportation Trust Fund may be used solely for the purpose of transportation capital projects. Yet Acting Governor DiFrancesco's recommended budget would siphon $90 million to the General Fund for other state needs. The Treasurer also intends to assign $50 million in capital funds to NJTransit to make up for operating budget shortfalls.
"State taxpayers are defrauded when the government diverts tax money from the needs that by law it is intended to cover," said Sam Perelli, State Chairman of the United Taxpayers of New Jersey. "Our roads and bridges are in the sorry state they are now because of similar backdoor maneuverings that the reauthorization law explicitly intended to stop."
The Trust Fund vote was the second time in two years New Jersey citizens had approved more tax money for the Department of Transportation. In 1999, New Jersey voters supported the Local Bridge Bond, which allowed $500 million in new bonding for the DOT half for the repair of municipally owned structurally deficient bridges. In both cases, the administration's campaign for approval spotlighted the need to repair aging roads and bridges.
"The public was told twice that new funds for DOT would be spent to repair roads and bridges," said Curtis Fischer, Executive Director of the NJ Public Interest Research Group's Citizen Lobby. "The DOT fooled the public twice and won't get away with it again."
The law requires the DOT to prepare a "Capital Investment Strategy" that lays out capital spending plans towards meeting the goals. However, the Capital Investment Strategy DOT submitted to the legislature in March dismissed the bridge and road repair goals as "not feasible." No further plan for meeting the goals was set forth and current allocations are not sufficient. In fact, in 2002 DOT plans to spend only $22 million from the Trust Fund on bridge repair out of $560 million, while spending $66 million on new highways and highway widening.
"Nothing has been rethought and no money has been reallocated in response to the law, even though fixing bridges was made a top priority," said Marie Curtis, Executive Director of the New Jersey Environmental Lobby.
The legislature also included directives in the Trust Fund Reauthorization Act for building an additional 1,000 lane-miles of bicycle paths within the next five years. The DOT now claims to have completed many miles towards this goal. But some of the projects DOT is counting are not built paths, but simply roads and highways where DOT has placed signs marking a bicycle route. Many other construction projects are not new, but rather have been in planning since 1998.
"Simply putting a 'share the road' sign on a road does not magically make it safe for cyclists," said John Kaehny, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives. "The law directs the DOT to construct 1,000 additional lane miles for the exclusive use of bicycles, that means a striped bicycle lane or a path separated from traffic. Hanging directional signs and counting old projects is not a good faith effort."
The groups filed suit following several meetings, legislative hearings, and attempts at negotiation in the preceding months. They will ask the Court to resolve their concerns prior to the June 30th deadline for legislative approval of the state budget.
Janine Bauer, Executive Director
Jennifer Jaroski, New Jersey Coordinator
New Jersey Environmental Lobby
Marie Curtis, Executive Director
NJPIRG Citizens Lobby
Curtis Fischer, Executive Director
John Kaehny, Executive Director
United Taxpayers of New Jersey
Sam Perelli, State Chairman
Rutgers Environmental Law
Ann Alexander, Attorney for Plaintiffs
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign is a non-profit regional alliance of public interest, transit advocacy, planning, and environmental organizations working for transportation reform with offices in Trenton, New York City, and Long Island.
The New Jersey Public Interest Research Group Citizen's Lobby is a non-profit statewide organization of 55,000 members committed to improving the environment and public health with offices in New Brunswick, Morristown, and Trenton.
The New Jersey Environmental Lobby is non-profit lobbying organization for environmental concerns representing 100 local, regional, and statewide environmental groups and 1,000 members in New Jersey.
Transportation Alternatives is a non-profit organization with 350 New Jersey based members that advocates for the needs of cyclists and pedestrians.
United Taxpayer's of New Jersey is a non-profit organization established to network civic, taxpayer groups and activists from around the state with offices in Cedar Grove.