Transportation commissioner, committee spar over canceled ARC project funding, five-year capital plan

State Transportation Commissioner James Simpson Monday assured the Assembly Transportation Committee that the governor’s five-year, $8 billion Transportation Capital program will not increase taxes and will rely on general fund cash and bonding.

Committee Chairman John Wisniewski, (D-19), Middlesex, however pressed Simpson on whether the state could have devised its capital plan without using money from the canceled ARC tunnel project.

Regarding repaying to Washington $271 million for the canceled ARC project, Simpson said “If judgment day comes,” the administration fails to convince the federal government that it does not have to repay the funds, then the Department will have to deal with that when the time comes.

Among other things, Simpson said the department over the last couple of years, has sold $1.85 billion in bonds at the lowest cost ever, has saved $9 million in administrative fees, eliminated 133 positions, eliminated unused sick and vacation time saving $200 million in 2011, and saved $18 million with the new contract just negotiated for N.J. Turnpike workers.

Simpson said this capital plan will include more than Transportation Trust Fund dollars, will utilize general fund appropriations, and ensure that dedicated funds such as new car sales taxes and petroleum gross receipts taxes go toward their intended purposes.

Wisniewski raised questions about the Port Authority’s borrowed $343 million that the transportation department is using for this fiscal year, as well as money from cancelation of the Access to the Region’s Core tunnel project.

Wisniewski said that now-aborted project would have cost $3 billion. Considering that there will be $1.8 billion in port authority funding, according to the Department, he said that $1.2  billion remains unaccounted for.

He asked Simpson whether the Department could have come up with its capital plan without  accessing the money from that canceled project and Simpson maintained they still might have been.

Simpson acknowledged the state is taking advantage of that ARC money but said the decisions to not go forward with ARC had nothing to do with the Transportation Trust Fund.

And Linda Stender, (D-22), Scotch Plains, said this five-year plan, including the Port Authority, features $22 billion in new debt that voters will have no chance to weigh in on.

She also criticized the condition of some roads such as Route 22 as “third world country roads,’’ and when Simpson said he wished she had raised that issue with him in previous meetings, Wisniewski stepped in and said that as the head of the department he should not have to have a legislator inform him of road conditions that he already should be aware of.

  Transportation commissioner, committee spar over canceled ARC project funding, five-year capital plan