The good news: The number of structurally deficient bridges in the state is down over the past decade - 202 statewide, as compared to 965 in 2000, according to a report from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. Most of those are in northern New Jersey. And the most structurally unsound bridge in southern New Jersey - on the causeway connecting Somers Point and Ocean City - is already being replaced.

The bad news: Things are expected to go downhill from here. The outlook for transportation improvements and maintenance is grim. The Transportation Trust Fund is running dry. Gov. Chris Christie has yet to reveal plans to replace the funds, but experts believe that the level of funding available for transportation projects will be far less than in the past five years.

Tri-State's bridge report also included a call for Christie to take the $1.25 billion from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority that would have gone to the Hudson River tunnel project, which Christie killed, and redirect it into other transportation projects.

That money is only a partial, short-term solution to the state's transportation-funding woes. Still, redirecting it makes sense. And it appears such a move may already be in the works: The Turnpike Authority recently announced that it intends to use at least $295 million a year from 2012 through 2017 for "non-turnpike system purposes."

During his campaign, Christie advocated a "pay as you go" transportation system that did not include a gas-tax increase. He acknowledged that would not allow the state to do as many transportation maintenance and improvement projects as it had done in the past.

That may sound realistic and practical. But it also fails to acknowledge the hidden costs of doing less - the hours motorists waste in traffic, the damage to vehicles, the accidents caused by poor road conditions and the detoured traffic from closing unsafe bridges. Those are factors the governor should consider as he weighs his options.

Raising the gasoline tax - which jelly-kneed lawmakers have refused to do for more than 15 years - should be under consideration. It remains the best funding stream for a pay-as-you-go system. It is a user tax that falls most heavily on those who use the roadways most, including out-of-state residents who travel through New Jersey. Without a gas-tax increase, New Jersey's available funding for transportation is expected to be dramatically less than it has been in the past five years - even if it uses every penny of the money that would have gone to the tunnel project.

And that will be bad news, indeed, for motorists who value their axles, their tires and their time.

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