While New Jersey is benefiting greatly from the increased funding under federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), more must be done to help counties and municipalities compete for available grant funding. That was the message of testimony submitted by NJTPA Chair John W. Bartlett, Passaic County Commissioner, to a hearing of the New Jersey Assembly Special Committee on Infrastructure and Natural Resources on February 16, 2023. The written testimony is here
Bartlett said that the NJTPA is working closely with its partners, N.J. Department of Transportation (NJDOT) and NJ TRANSIT, to identify and fund the highest priority transportation projects with available IIJA formula funding. Ongoing management of this funding through the NJTPA Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), allows NJTPA and its partners to be “nimble and to quickly seek out and program new federal funds when they become available.”
He noted that the NJTPA is also making increased federal funding available to member counties and cities for the initial concept development and environmental work to prepare local bridge and other projects for eventual federal funding for construction through the TIP. NJTPA also provides federal funds for local safety improvement projects, 19 of which are slated for approval in March. But Bartlett indicated that much IIJA funding is distributed through competitive grants, requiring the investment of considerable staff time, expertise, and resources in developing grant applications, “which present challenges for many county and local governments.”
The NJTPA, he said, has sought to assist its member agencies in grant activities, including by providing information about funding opportunities, consulting on local applications, and providing data and letters of support. In the next fiscal year, it will assist interested member agencies in the development of local safety action plans, a requirement for applying for IIJA safety implementation grants. In addition, NJTPA support for planning efforts by counties and municipalities, in many cases, he said results in recommendations “ideally suited to compete for IIJA-funded grants.”
The need for such support for local grant activities under IIJA will grow over the next four years, according to Bartlett. While state level investments are “helping immensely, he said, many needs can be addressed most effectively and promptly by county and local governments.” This includes helping address aging infrastructure; reducing crashes and improving safety, particularly for pedestrians; expanding and improving the bus and transit network; and, support for disadvantaged communities, many of which have been traditionally underserved by transportation programs.
The needs, he said, also extend to water infrastructure such as stormwater management and flood prevention, which is a particular concern in his home county of Passaic along the Passaic River basin.
The State Legislature and State agencies should do more to “bolster the capabilities and resources available to counties and municipalities, both in the application process and in successfully implementing their grants.” The result he said “will not just be improved competitiveness for IIJA funding but also capacity building that will benefit our municipalities and counties in other ways.”