With a Coastal Flood Watch in effect for the entire region and the memory of Superstorm Sandy still fresh in everyone’s minds, the Senate Transportation Committee approved legislation requiring a state study and report on transportation infrastructure needs in coastal counties on Monday, March 4.
Bill S-1547, introduced by Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove, calls for an examination of the infrastructure needs in Atlantic, Cape May, Ocean, Monmouth, Cumberland and Salem counties.
Among the issues that would be examined:
- necessary construction of new roads, highways, bridges, and rail lines;
- necessary repair,maintenance, and improvement of existing roads, highways, bridges, and rail lines;
- the environmental impact of any new construction;
- the infrastructure needs of each county and the region as a whole in preparing for the safe and expedient evacuation of the coast in the event of an emergency, including appropriate evacuation routes and alternative means of evacuation;
- the alleviation of traffic congestion;
- the estimated costs of meeting the transportation infrastructure needs of each county and the region as a whole;
- the availability of federal funds; and
- any other information relevant to the subject of the report.
The Deparmtent of Transportation and the New Jersey Transit Corporation may consult with the South Jersey Transportation Authority and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority about infrastructure needs for toll roads, according to the bill.
They would also be permitted to consult with the Superintendent of State Police and the Director of the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness in putting together this report, which must be completed within six months of the effective date.
According to Connors, the delegation felt a report of this nature was necessary as a comparison to the infrastructure inefficiencies related to the evacuations in New Orleans related to Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.
“It was important to ensure that the transportation infrastructure in our state’s coastal area would be able to handle the high volume of traffic that would be created by an emergency situation should a similar devastating event hit New Jersey’s coast,” Connors said. “Now, we know all too well after Hurricane Irene and more recently Superstorm Sandy that our state is vulnerable to the types of severe weather that can lead to the loss of life, cause unimaginable devastation and require large-scale evacuations.”
Sandy hit the area in October, and devastated much of New Jersey’s coast, although Atlantic and Cape May counties were spared the bulk of the devastation.
“Prioritizing critical infrastructure needs in our state’s coastal areas has been taken on a whole new level of importance in light of Superstorm Sandy and its unforgettable impact on our area,” said Rumpf, who serves as the ranking Republican member of the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee. “For decades, our area of the state was under-resourced in terms of transportation infrastructure dollars. This unfortunate reality, coupled with the fact that our area has a basically nonexistent public transportation system, required our Delegation to call for a comprehensive assessment of the existing infrastructure as a means of identifying and addressing needed upgrades.”
Rumpf was the vice chairman of the Coastal New Jersey Evacuation Task Force. Recommendations in a report submitted to the legislature by that task force in 2008 contributed to legislation signed into law by Gov Chris Christie two months ago.
“I have a true understanding of the critical role infrastructure plays in an emergency evacuation,” said Gove, a former mayor of Long Beach Island. “With the Route 72 Causeway Bridge serving as the only means of ingress and egress from Long Beach Island, local emergency coordinators were confronted by serious challenges in evacuating residents to safety when Hurricane Irene and then Superstorm Sandy hit. This is just one example, albeit a glaring one, of why a comprehensive assessment of the state’s coastal transportation infrastructure is needed in moving forward with the rebuilding process.”
S-1547 is now up for vote by the full chamber. The Assembly version of the bill, A-2469, is currently before the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee.
A copy of each bill is attached to this story as a PDF.