As discussed in the Transportation Planning section of Contemporary Urban Planning by John M. Levy, transportation is funded through self-finance, such as the purchase of a car, gas, insurance, etc., as well as through taxes and fees paid to government institutions that facilitate the roadways. In New Jersey, capital improvement programs for the Department of Transportation are funded through the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), which was created to provide a consistent source of transportation funding, because the state had had issues with unpredictable annual spending and borrowing that was higher than projected. As stated by the TTF’s website, it is financed by motor fuels tax, petroleum tax, toll road authorities such as the Parkway and Turnpike, and a percentage of sales and use tax.

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Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (center), with Governor Chris Christie on the left and Senate President Stephen Sweeney on the right, announces a deal on the Transportation Trust Fund.

Lately, the TTF has encountered problems because its funds are no longer sufficient to cover the necessary capital improvements. This is partially because it is now covering more maintenance costs that were originally paid for by other sources of funding, so its debt has been steadily rising over the past few years. This year, the fund completely ran out of money, and Governor Christie was forced to shut down all non-emergency roadwork. Far and away the highest contributor to the TTF’s expenditures is the motor fuels tax, and New Jersey’s is the second lowest in the nation. It had not been increased since the 1980s, and state lawmakers recognized that they had to raise the gas tax in order to address this growing deficit. I actually interned in the Governor’s office this summer, while he was negotiating with the state Senate and Assembly, and I read the proposals that they were all presenting in attempts of coming to a compromise, as well as sat in on sessions that discussed the bill. The government is so heavily involved in urban planning, especially in transportation planning, and I had a unique perspective. Our governor and the legislative bodies are opposing political parties, so it was particularly interesting because Governor Christie insisted on tax-fairness, meaning that other taxes be reduced to offset this increase. Although I do not intend on pursuing a career in urban planning, it was fascinating to see how my interest, politics, plays a large part in this field.

Ultimately, they were able to come to an agreement and our TTF should be sufficiently funded for years to come. Interestingly enough, less than a week after the Governor signed the bill into law, a notoriously unpleasant bridge in my town riddled with potholes was paved over and is now very easy to drive over. It’s always fulfilling to see our government and its agencies working efficiently, and to directly see and enjoy the benefits of our tax dollars.

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