How NJ Transit will spend its $814 million construction windfall

TRENTON – NJ Transit’s board has approved a revised capital plan that speeds up work on seven of its stations, made possible because $814 million from the state surplus was transferred to the agency.

More than $5 billion from the state’s record budget surplus was put into the Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund established a year ago, through which the state pays down debt or for construction without additional borrowing.

Of that, $1.9 billion went toward school construction, $230 million went to the Department of Transportation and $814 million made it to NJ Transit, which will use it to accelerate projects that had been years down the drawing board.

Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said nobody could have anticipated what this budget season would provide back when the five-year capital plan was developed.

“And so, New Jersey Transit has a very full plate, but all extraordinarily important projects,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said. “It’s wonderful to receive so much additional funding to improve our system.”

The added spending includes:

$250 million for the redevelopment of Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden

Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden (Google Maps)

Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden (Google Maps)

$191 million for improvements to platforms, roof replacement, lighting upgrades, and other interior and exterior improvements at Newark Penn Station

An NJ Transit train pulls into Penn Station Newark

An NJ Transit train pulls into Penn Station Newark (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

$176 million for infrastructure and access improvements at the Hoboken Ferry Terminal Building and Hoboken Bus Terminal

Summer of Delays

(David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ)

$49 million for extending and replacing existing platforms, rehabilitating and replacing the elevators and escalators, installing new lighting and windows, upgrading HVAC systems, and other internal and external improvements at the New Brunswick station

New Brunswick Train Station on October 15, 2019. (Edwin J. Torres/ Governor’s Office)

New Brunswick Train Station on October 15, 2019. (Edwin J. Torres/ Governor’s Office)

$48 million for improvements at the bloomfield station

attachment-bloomfield station

$33 million for improvements at the Brick Church Station in East Orange

Brick Church Station in East Orange (Google Maps)

Brick Church Station in East Orange (Google Maps)

$27 million for platform replacement, repairs to access stairs, and other internal and external improvements at the Roselle Park station

Roselle Park Station (Google Maps)

Roselle Park Station (Google Maps)

It also includes $40 million for the construction of a Maintenance-of-Way facility in Clifton.

The five-year capital plan NJ Transit adopted in 2020 was described as “an unconstrained vision,” meaning it included both projects with funding in place and those without funding, to give people a sense of the options and opportunities.

NJ Transit board members said it’s important that the agency had that in place, so there’s a plan for the windfall.

“They created a pathway that would allow for an opportunity to put dollars in place as soon as money came available for important projects,” said vice president Cedrick Fulton.

“It was an excellent and intelligent move on New Jersey Transit’s part to have an unconstrained capital program. It was just, I can say, it was just genius,” said board members James Adams.

Drivers paying more than riders

NJ Transit also approved its $2.755 billion budget for fiscal 2023, in which funding from the New Jersey Turnpike exceeds revenue from fares – meaning toll-road drivers are chipping in more than transit riders over the next 12 months.

Just 26% of revenues will come from fares this year. The agency said ridership continues to slowly recover from its pandemic-era plunge, with weekday rail ridership at 55% of pre-pandemic levels; weekend ridership at 80% to 90%, light rail at 75% and bus ridership around 70%.

There are no fare increases in the new budget.

The forecasted 2024 and ’25 budgets for NJ Transit continue to be balanced due to federal COVID recovery funds. But for fiscal 2026, a massive $843 million shortfall looms, equal to 28% of projected spending.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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