New Jersey spends more per mile on its highway system than any other state in the country but isn’t getting its money’s worth, according to a report released Thursday by a nonpartisan public policy group.
The Reason Foundation study ranked New Jersey worst in the country in congestion and near the bottom in pavement conditions.
The think tank began releasing its report in 1984. It was the second year in a row the state occupied the bottom spot.
On a more positive note, New Jersey’s overall road fatality rate was fourth-lowest in the nation, and the condition of its rural interstate pavement was best in the nation.
A state Department of Transportation spokesman said in an email the department is reviewing the report.
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“We didn’t need another study to tell us we spend too much money for roads that are in bad shape, just ask anyone who drives to Wawa for morning coffee and ends up wearing it after hitting a pothole,” said state Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic.
The state has to do better, Brown said, calling it “unacceptable that we are the highest-taxed state in the nation and yet we can’t fix our own roads, proving once again Trenton can’t get out of its own way.”
Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, said the road congestion makes working on roads and keeping them in good shape especially difficult.
“You put that with the fact that for eight to 10 years we didn’t fully fund the Transportation Trust Fund,” Mazzeo said. The fund is used for major road and other transportation projects.
There is more funding available since the gas tax went up in 2016 from 14.5 cents per gallon to 37.5 cents, and more recently to 41.4 cents. The tax feeds the trust fund.
“Hopefully we can move up quickly” from the bottom of the national rankings, Mazzeo said.
He said Gov. Phil Murphy has talked about using public-private partnerships to improve road conditions, as have been used in other states.
In 2016, Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic leaders reached a deal for transportation funding that raised New Jersey’s gas tax for the first time since 1988.
It ended a statewide construction freeze, but it will take time for the backlog of projects to get done.
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said the state misused the Transportation Trust Fund for years.
“New Jersey has no money. Not only are we the highest-taxed state in the country, but the state bond rating has fallen 11 times in the past 10 years,” Levinson said.
Extra money from a higher gas tax “doesn’t even come close to what is needed for roads to be repaired in this state,” Levinson said. “It’s a help, but it doesn’t cover everything.”
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The foundation ranked New York 45th overall and Pennsylvania 35th. North Dakota ranked first.
The report used statistics compiled by the Federal Highway Administration from state data reported in 2016 and 2017.
New Jersey’s state-controlled highway system is the 47th largest in the country.
“New Jersey is expected to have somewhat higher costs than many other states, but the state has one of the smallest highway systems in the country, so taxpayers could realistically expect New Jersey to improve its ranking by improving its pavement condition and decreasing traffic congestion,” lead author Baruch Feigenbaum said in a statement.
The report also analyzed bridge conditions and rated New Jersey 29th with 8.85% of its bridges reported as structurally deficient. The bottom five states — Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia, Iowa and Rhode Island — each reported more than 18% of their bridges as deficient.
The report defined structurally deficient bridges as those with deteriorated conditions that need maintenance in the near future to ensure continued safety.
The foundation measured the condition and cost-effectiveness of state-owned roads in 13 categories, including pavement condition on urban and rural interstates, deficient bridges, traffic fatalities, administrative costs and spending per mile on state roads.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.