Well, we can report that the FY2018 Transportation Improvement Program for New Jersey (NJ TIP) is no longer a “draft.”
Unfortunately, that is about the end of the good news for walking and biking advocates in New Jersey after yesterday’s DVRPC meeting to review and approve the NJ TIP for this round. As we covered in a previous blog post, DVRPC had previously promised $1 million over the period for Circuit related projects. At the time, we noted that this allocation is a start, but is also far short of the roughly $17 million needed to build the outstanding segments of The Circuit in New Jersey.
Together with our Circuit Coalition partner organizations, we created a public outreach campaign that was successful in generating comments that asked for a starting point of $1 million per county ($4 million total), just as PA did during its last TIP round. When we reviewed the summary of DVRPC’s TIP Response, we found 29 responses that asked for increased funding for Circuit related projects, out of a total of 153 comments received.
This is why it was particularly discouraging to find out that after this considerable response from enthusiastic advocates from across the NJ counties, that the New Jersey subcommittee of the DVRPC board (comprised of Freeholders of the four counties) announced today that there would be no change, not one dollar more.
New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s representative to the Circuit Coalition Olivia Glenn was the first to give verbal feedback on the process at the outset of the October 26th meeting. Ms. Glenn thanked DVRPC for the $1 million, calling it a “vital start” to completing 750 miles of The Circuit by 2040. She also highlighted how this will hopefully be the start of future growth in funding for The Circuit. She thanked DVRPC for its user-friendly Environmental Justice (EJ) tool known as Indicators of Potential Disadvantage, subsequently pointing out that EJ issues should be part of the discussion when considering whether a particular Circuit segment should be funded, as The Circuit will provide carless and low-income households with more affordable transportation options.
For those that may think “a million dollars is nothing to sneeze at,” here’s some context: $1 million is approximately 0.05% of the total funds that were approved in this TIP round. To bring funding for bike/ped projects up to a level that would make it equitably distributed compared to the proportion of people that walk and bike in the region, DVRPC should have allocated at least $20 million this round. In fact, there are relatively few individual projects in the NJ TIP that were less than $1 million each (intersection improvements, etc), yet that same amount of funding is supposed to help an entire regional network of interconnected trails get built. This was at a time when there were substantial increases of state money into the transportation trust fund via the newly increased gas tax in New Jersey.
We will be monitoring the progress made on the Circuit projects that need construction funding and how this new $1 million is allocated, and we will continue to advocate for more funding for bike/ped and Circuit projects in New Jersey.