EDISON, NJ-With an overlying message from the Christie Administration that “New Jersey is open for business,” the state’s transportation infrastructure goes to the very heart of economic matters. “Transportation is the nexus for all things that happen in this state,” Commissioner James Simpson of the New Jersey Department of Transportation told attendees of NAIOP New Jersey’s Transportation Infrastructure Update.

Citing everything from the potential for ancillary investment generated by the expansion of Atlantic City International Airport, to the heralded ARC tunnel project under the Hudson River, “now is the time to invest in New Jersey,” Simpson said. “We have the densest urban core, the ports and airports and the existing road system. Those are major strengths.”

Admitting that road congestion is an ongoing concern–and that the $5 billion cost and environmental impact of the widening of the New Jersey Turnpike in the vicinity of New Jersey Turnpike Exit 8A has raised some eyebrows–”that project will ultimately result in significant travel time savings,” Simpson said, citing $7 to $8 million as the cost of congestion. The Commissioner also pointed to sustainability as a goal, specifically from the standpoint of tying development to transit hubs across the state.

Turning to the ARC tunnel that will double the rail capacity between New Jersey and New York City, “it will fundamentally change the way we move people,” said Bill Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority of NY/NJ and a former state senator. By his estimate, ARC will create 6,000 construction jobs and 44,000 permanent jobs. Calling the Port Authority “one of the engines of our economy–we are acutely aware of our role in creating jobs,” Baroni said that finding a solution to the air draft issue relating to the Bayonne Bridge is “a top priority and an impending crisis. We are aggressively focused on finding a solution to put New Jersey’s ports in a position to take the larger ships” expected as a result of the Panama Canal widening.

Finally, Baroni discussed other projects such as a capital program to upgrade and modernize the PATH system, a $300-million upgrade to Newark Liberty Airport’s Terminal B, expanding ferry service in Hoboken and Lower Manhattan, the $2-billion port dredging and a $600-million rail upgrade within the port of Newark/Elizabeth. “We are making investments to compete,” he said.

Opening up a panel discussion, “where do we go from here from a state planning standpoint and an industry standpoint,” asked moderator Karl Pehnke of Langan Engineering and Environmental Services. Pointing to transit hubs as destinations and job growth catalysts, “the key is to get state government agencies and local governments on board,” said Dianne Brake, president of PlanSmart New Jersey, referring to the state’s fragmented regulatory landscape. “We have to develop a clearer statewide plan where needed economic growth and the environment are both protected.” David Thurston, regional manager of brokerage for Marcus & Millichap agreed, noting, “Towns and counties have to work with the state’s agencies and departments to understand the statewide impact of a given project or initiative. Everybody must play a role in the bigger picture.”

Part of that bigger picture is determining what the ARC tunnel project will do on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River in terms of intrastate travel, noted Mary K. Murphy, executive director of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority. “We don’t really understand the impact and where the redevelopment opportunities are,” she said. “Communities have to work with developers and regulators to coalesce their collective strength to take advantage of the great investment being made in ARC.”

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