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January is a time for resolutions based on hope and determination. In the face of today’s economic meltdown, however, hope and determination are in short supply.

President-elect Obama’s recently named science advisor John P. Holdren explained the extent of the problem in a December speech. “Without energy there is no economy. Without climate there is no environment. Without economy and environment there’s no material well-being, there’s no civil society, there’s no personal or national or international security.”

PlanSmart NJ proposes that state leaders use initiatives already underway in New Jersey–ones that can link energy, economy and environment–as the source of their hope and the focus of their determination to make significant progress in 2009. We are confident that with immediate action and strong leadership, these projects can be leveraged to turn New Jersey around.

These projects are: the construction of the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) Tunnel; integration of state agencies’ actions with local land use decisions in a number of other transportation investments, such as the Route 1 Growth Strategy, the Liberty Corridor Plan, the PATCO extension and other infrastructure projects; and editing the Global Warming Response Act recommendations to include stronger actions to integrate land use and transportation planning.

We ask the state to resolve to use these projects to drive a comprehensive yet strategic short-term action plan for 2009, and to use this course of action as the model for transforming the State Development and Redevelopment Plan–by the end of 2009–into the plan it was always meant to be–one that is relevant and effective in meeting New Jersey’s many challenges.

With a new short-term action plan focused on these projects, the state would have the basis for an effective economic stimulus package, the groundwork to eliminate current in-place obstacles to sustainable development and a demonstration of how to integrate the independent actions of hundreds of agents of government. Here, then, is PlanSmart NJ’s reasoning as to how and why these initiatives should be built into a new strategic action plan as quickly as possible:

Use the construction of the ARC Tunnel to unify and direct government action: the construction of this project will double the capacity of New Jersey’s transit system and provide new intra-regional transit options to three-quarters of New Jersey’s population. The construction of the ARC Tunnel will create thousands of jobs in planning and construction, and could–if leveraged as we advocate–put New Jersey on the path to a more sustainable future.

For 2009, there are two vital financial goals to be met: secure, early this year, the commitment for the $3 billion federal share of the total cost of the project; and find the money to replenish the state’s Transportation Trust Fund by the end of the year. Another important goal, which must be implemented in 2009, is to prepare the many existing and potential station areas for the new capacity that will be added to the system.

The state must coordinate the land use plans, government regulations and investments of all agencies of government, as recommended by PlanSmart NJ’s Smart Growth Economy Project, to meet: job targets for station areas to build up the economic base of the many places that will have new transit; housing targets to meet the pent-up demand, rehabilitate the existing stock and provide new homes affordable to those taking jobs; and a target to reduce the concentration of poverty by using new development in station areas.

Further consideration should be given to targets for the restoration, enhancement and protection of natural resources, and providing the basis for the protection of large tracts of land from development. Use the Route 1 Growth Strategy, the Liberty Corridor Plan, the PATCO Line Extension, new Bus Rapid Transit proposals and other transportation projects as demonstrations as to how regional plans can link economic growth, local land use plans and state infrastructure investments. These projects are smaller applications of the approach proposed to be taken in the development of the ARC Tunnel.

Edit the Global Warming Response Act Recommendations to reinforce the proposed new strategic approach to making investments around the state: the integration of land use and transportation policy clearly has a significant role to play in meeting 2050 emissions targets. If New Jersey fails to work aggressively to achieve this integration, the only hope we will have of achieving these targets will be to let job loss, white flight and other socially negative trends do their worst.

Instead, New Jersey must reform its agencies’ regulations and incentive programs to create economic and regional equity opportunities in transit-friendly centers, promote the protection of large tracts of rural landscape and improve watershed conditions.As the most transit-friendly state in the nation, New Jersey could be the first to demonstrate how proximity, extensive new service (commuter trains and BRT to local shuttles and jitneys), carbon-trading and other strategies can make a state open to economic growth, while also reducing waste. In short, New Jersey could become one of the greenest and most socially and economically integrated states in the nation.

This New Year’s resolution flows directly from PlanSmart NJ’s 40 years of research and practice. Our experience tells us that these resolutions should be, can be and must be accomplished if New Jersey is to succeed in recasting its future.

Dianne Brake is president of PlanSmart NJ, a Trenton-based statewide research and advocacy group focused on land use planning and regional cooperation. She can be reached at [email protected] The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

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