By Travis Fedschun
Last week's passage of a new national transportation bill will translate to additional funding for New Jersey's highways and jobs, Sen. Robert Menendez announced this morning at Hoboken Terminal.
The bill will provide New Jersey with $506 million in federal transit funding in the 2013 fiscal year and $514 million in 2014, Menendez said as he was joined by Freeholder Anthony Romano, and Hoboken City Council members Theresa Castellano and David Mello.
The result is an increase of $70 million compared to current funding.
"It took years of tough negotiations to be able to stand here today, but I'm incredibly pleased with the outcome of this bill and what it means to New Jersey," Menendez said.
The bill will also protect or create more than 54,000 New Jersey jobs, he added.
Besides streamlining the "New Starts" process to allow for transit projects to increase capacity on existing systems rather than simply building new systems, there is also a new $10 million transit-oriented development planning program.
The program will help communities create livable communities by planning new development near transit hubs. In New Jersey, it would work in tandem with the state's Transit Village program.
Noting the accident on the Washington Metro in 2009 that killed six people, Menendez praised how the new bill would also increase federal oversight of public transit safety systems.
"It's an incredibly huge win for New Jersey," he said.
While Menendez was pleased with the final bill, he did express disappointment that it did not include several measures that had been a part of the original bill in the Senate.
"I am very disappointed that we were not able to provide transit agencies more flexibility to use federal funds to retain workers in hard economic times," he said.
Rep. Albio Sires, D-West New York, also had mixed opinions over the final bill, which he said was necessary to maintain infrastructure important to economy and create or save over 2 million jobs.
"While I would have preferred a surface transportation bill of a longer duration, I am pleased that we have passed a surface transportation bill with over two years of funding, which will provide much needed certainty for New Jersey businesses and local transportation agencies," he said.
It was also announced that the National Transit Institute at Rutgers University will receive $5 million in funding. The NTI provides training, education, and clearinghouse services in support of public transportation across the nation.
"This will continue the groundbreaking work that Rutgers does," Menendez said.
The bill also included a provision that extended the current student loan interest rate of 3.4 percent for one year. The rate had been scheduled to double to 6.8 percent on July 1.
Menendez and Sires praised the extension, which they said would have put a burden on students, who have some of the highest unemployment rates of any group.
"While I would prefer that this extension be for a longer period of time, many New Jersey students will benefit from the 3.4 percent student loan interest rate over this upcoming year," he said.
Councilman-at-large David Mello, chairman of Hoboken's Committee of Parking and Transportation, said today the bill is important to local municipalities like Hoboken due to the guarantees of funding over several years. The previous bill had been extended several times, leaving some projects uncertain in terms of funding.
"Knowing that there is federal funding is vital to see all these programs and projects come to fruition," he said.