Lawmakers see gas tax revenues returning to Sussex County

| 19 Apr 2017 | 01:36

By Liam Donovan and Joseph Picard
— The recent increase in the state’s gasoline tax will go to paying for improvements to Newton Green and the construction of the Andover train station, as well as several other projects in Sussex and Warren counties, according to the local legislators instrumental in passing the tax hike.
“I am confident our district’s needs, as they relate to road and bridge maintenance and improvements, will see the critical investment from the state,” said State Sen. Steve Oroho (R-NJ 24).
The state’s 24th District covers all of Sussex County and parts of Morris and Warren counties.
Oroho helped hammer out the legislative compromise last year that led to a 23-cent increase in state’s gasoline tax, with the revenue raised targeted to replenish the reauthorized Transportation Trust Fund, which is the source of funding for state-authorized infrastructure projects.
According to Oroho and his legislative colleague, Assemblyman Parker Space (R-NJ 24), the replenished TTF can now make substantially more money available for critical projects.
“By augmenting the share of the TTF that is dedicated to Local Transportation Aid, from 10 percent to 20 percent of the pie each year, we are helping towns and counties provide for more of their own roads and bridges without having local property taxpayers bear the full cost,” Oroho said.
The state Department of Transportation has named 33 projects in District 24 as part of the State’s Transportation Capital Program. Individual projects must yet be approved by the DOT.
“As a more rural district, we have a vast array of municipal and county roads and bridges that require as much attention as the infrastructure under the State’s purview,” Space said. “It is incumbent upon us as the representatives in this district to make that need known.”
With that in mind, Oroho and Space last week hosted DOT Commissioner Richard Hammer, Deputy Commissioner Joseph Bertoni and other top department staff on a tour to highlight several transportation projects in the district. Specifically, they visited:
• Route 23 Road Project (Holland Mountain Road, East Shore Road, Northern/Laceytown Road), Hardyston Township
• Pedestrian safety and signage improvements around Newton Green, Newton
• Proposed site of Andover train station along the Lackawanna Cutoff, Andover Township
• River Styx Bridge Rehabilitation Project, Hopatcong
• International Drive North improvements, Trade Zone, Mount Olive Township
• Paulinskill Bridge repairs, Blairstown
“The project in the Newton Green area is a pedestrian safety concern,” Oroho and Space said in a joint response to an inquiry by the Township Journal. “Our office has already worked with the Town of Newton and NJDOT to help improve the pedestrian crossing by the County Administration building, the Courthouse and the Green. However, due to the limited sight distance on a busy Route 206 we wanted the Commissioner to see where we believe lighted, blinking signage would further improve the crossing for pedestrians.”
Noting that the structural changes to the pedestrian crossing have already been completed, the lawmakers said the improved signage and traffic signal timing “will required limited funding,” and, if approved by the DOT, will be completed in the near future.
Construction of the Andover train station is a more involved proposition. Once approved by the DOT, it will be a “multi-year project,” Oroho and Space said.
The project involves a planned New Jersey Transit station in Andover on Roseville Road. The station is part of a plan to restore service to the Lackawanna Cut-Off in northwest New Jersey. Potential further plans include a proposed station in Blairstown and connecting the line with Scranton, Pennsylvania.
But there is opposition to the project.
The state Department of Environmental Protection says a permit is needed to upgrade a culvert which goes under a driveway and past a barn at the privately owned Hudson Farm property across from where the Andover station is planned.
According to Andover Township Mayor Tom Walsh, the culvert needs to be upgraded to withstand a “100-Year-Storm.” The owner of the property, however, is refusing to comply. To try and clear this last hurdle, the Township Committee recently approved an ordinance allowing the town to go to court to obtain the property through eminent domain.
In addition, the New Jersey Sierra Club is against the project, saying the area planned for the train station is an environmentally sensitive flood zone and protected by the DEP from development. Some residents, too, say the train station is not needed.
Whatever the outcome of the train station project, Oroho and Space emphasized that the 23 projects the state has designated are in addition to local road repair and resurfacing projects that Sussex County and its municipalities will be able to draw on the TTF to fund.
“The local aid funds for Sussex County and its municipalities will double from a total of approximately $4 million to about $8 million a year primarily used for road repair and resurfacing,” Oroho and Space said.