Senate passes huge bipartisan infrastructure bill with $12B for N.J.


The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that includes at least $12.3 billion for New Jersey’s roads and bridges, New Jersey Transit, and for the long-sought Gateway Tunnel under the Hudson River.

The bill, which also would renew existing surface transportation programs, drew bipartisan support, with 19 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats to pass one of President Joe Biden’s top priorities. The vote was 69-30.

“New Jersey and our country badly need federal investment to modernize our nation’s rail and transit systems, repair our crumbling roads and tunnels and deteriorating water systems, strengthen cyberinfrastructure, expand broadband access, and combat climate change,” U.S. Sen. Cory Booker said after the vote.

The measure now goes to the House, where passage might be delayed until lawmakers also finish a $3.5 trillion spending plan on education, child care, health care and climate change. The Senate immediately took up a budget resolution allowing lawmakers to pass the larger bill by majority vote and without the threat of a Republican filibuster.

The legislation would send $6.9 billion for highways, $1.1 billion for bridges and $4.2 billion for transit for New Jersey over the next five years, according to an analysis released Tuesday by Booker and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.

The state also can expect to receive $104.4 million to build electric vehicle charging stations, $100 million to expand high-speed internet connections, and $24.4 million for ferry service.

For Amtrak, there would be more than $60 billion, some of which could fund new passenger routes, including through New Jersey to connect Scranton, Allentown and Easton, Pa. with New York City.

There also would be $1 billion to tear down or cover highways built through largely minority communities, such as Interstate 280, and $3.5 billion to clean up Superfund sites. New Jersey has more Superfund sites than any state.

The legislation provided several possible funding sources for the federal share of the $11.6 billion Gateway Tunnel under the Hudson River. The long-sought project would build a new tunnel to carry Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains to and from New York’s Penn Station, allowing the existing tubes to be closed to repair damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

“The biggest obstacle has has been funding,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg during a visit to New Jersey on Monday. “This is our chance to do something very big about that biggest obstacle.”

That funding could come from $16 billion set aside for major projects deemed to provide substantial economic benefits, $30 billion earmarked for Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, and $11 billion for capital improvement grants.

Another provision could yield billions of dollars for New Jersey, which has built up $5.5 billion in credits for using toll revenues to maintain its interstate highways. The credits then are used to cover the local share of federally-funded road and bridge projects.

New Jersey has so many credits that it can’t spend them all, and the bill would let it sell them to other states at a discount. New Jersey therefore could raise billions of dollars for highway construction while the buying states could cover their local shares for less money.

The state also can expect a share of $20 billion set aside for airports; $36.9 billion for clean water, including removing lead pipes; $5 billion to clean up Superfund sites, of which New Jersey has more than any other state; $3.5 billion to protect against future flooding; and $3.5 billion to weatherize homes and lower heating bills.

“I am thrilled that this bill invests in many of the priorities I have spent decades fighting for on behalf of New Jersey, from improving access to public transit and clean drinking water, to completing Gateway and replacing our aging Hudson River tunnels, to building more resilient communities, and modernizing our electrical grid to help facilitate clean energy deployment,” U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez said.

Even if House passage is delayed, Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-7th Dist., said the infrastructure bill eventually will pass the chamber.

“This is not just rebuilding Eisenhower’s interstate highway system for the 98th time,” Malinowski said. “This is about doing something as big and as bold today as the interstate highway system was in the 1950s.”

Safety advocates criticized the legislation for failing to require automatic braking systems on many large trucks, for failing to require side and front underride guards to prevent cars from being wedged underneath trucks, for not including a study of hours of services for truckers, and for including a pilot program allowing 18 to 20 year olds to drive tractor-trailers across state lines.

They said the safety provisions in the House-passed transportation bill, though flawed as well, should be added to the final legislation.

NJ Advance Media reported in January that deaths in crashes involving large trucks — those weighing more than 10,000 pounds — rose to 5,005 in 2019, a 36% increase from 3,686 in 2010, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics. During the same period, the number of people killed in truck crashes in New Jersey grew by 50%.

“We cannot squander this opportunity to implement vehicle safety improvements that will save lives and spare families the heartbreak and economic costs of motor vehicle crashes,” said Joan Claybrook, former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head and now chair of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways.

“The Senate bill is too deficient to be accepted as the final word in the legislative process,” she said.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a trucking group, said it had its own problems with the bill, most notably the lack of adequate parking for truck drivers who need to pull over and rest.

An August 2015 Federal Highway Administration survey named New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania among the 17 states reporting the “most severe challenges” in providing adequate parking for truckers.

“Years of inaction on addressing the lack of truck parking has created a nationwide crisis that threatens the safety of millions of professional drivers, and increasingly the motoring public,” said Todd Spencer, president and chief executive of the association.

The American Trucking Associations, though, praised the legislation, with president and chief executive Chris Spear calling the bill’s passage “a groundbreaking step toward revitalizing America’s decaying roads and bridges, supporting our supply chain and economy with the foundation they need to grow, compete globally and lead the world.”

The infrastructure bill was a rare example of Republicans defying the wishes of former President Donald Trump, who opposed the bipartisan effort from the beginning and said it would “be very hard for me to endorse anyone foolish enough to vote in favor of this deal.”

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Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at jsalant@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him at @JDSalant.

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