Seven NJ Transit stations could receive $814 million for substantial renovations if Gov. Phil Murphy signs off on a bill that passed through the Legislature on Wednesday.
The bill would create a new $5.2 billion pot of money, known as the New Jersey Debt Defeasance and Prevention Fund. About $2.9 billion would go to the state Schools Development Authority for school facilities projects and $230 million to the state Department of Transportation for Lincoln Tunnel Access Program projects, rebuilding the I-295 retaining wall that collapsed last year and engineering design work for a pilot multi-project program.
The use of the remaining balance in the fund would be determined by a Joint Budget Oversight Committee, with input from the state treasurer.
Murphy and lawmakers set up the defeasance fund after borrowing $4 billion at the outset of the pandemic, money they ultimately did not need but could not immediately pay back.
Here are the NJ Transit projects the money would fund:
$176,000,000 for the Hoboken Ferry Terminal Building and Hoboken Bus Terminal.
$48,000,000 for the Bloomfield Station.
$33,000,000 for the Brick Church Station.
$49,000,000 for the New Brunswick Station.
$27,000,000 for the Roselle Park Station.
$40,000,000 for construction of a maintenance-of-way facility in Clifton.
$191,000,000 for Newark Penn Station.
$250,000,000 for the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden.
Murphy announced the Newark Penn and Walter Rand projects last year but had not provided answers on how they would be funded.
State lawmakers and Murphy also agreed to send additional federal funding to the mass transit agency as part of budget negotiations for the 2023 fiscal year that begins July 1.
But they have not agreed to a long-term dedicated revenue source for NJ Transit, something for which advocates have spent years pushing to put the agency on solid fiscal footing. The Murphy administration argues that a new stream of funding from the Turnpike Authority is dedicated revenue, even though it could end after Murphy leaves office.
The budget supporting the aid increase was approved by the full Senate and Assembly on Wednesday, and awaits Murphy's signature.
Here’s where the money is outlined to come from in the state budget:
$100 million in state operating assistance from the general fund subsidy, the same as last year.
$82.1 million from the Clean Energy Fund, the same as last year.
$40 million in state fiscal recovery fund assistance from coronavirus relief aid.
$760 million from the Transportation Trust Fund, the same as last year.
Though not in the state budget, there is also $721 million being directed to NJ Transit from the Turnpike Authority this coming fiscal year, up from $325 million last year, thanks to a memorandum of understanding signed in 2021.
NJ Transit is also still relying on federal transit funds from coronavirus relief packages to plug its budget, different from the $40 million in coronavirus recovery money directed from the state for the coming fiscal year.
“The FY 2023 budget agreement includes dedicated funding from the Turnpike Authority and reflects the Murphy administration’s continued prioritization of efficient, affordable transportation for all,” said Bailey Lawrence, a spokesman for the Murphy administration. “Together, the features of the FY 2023 budget agreement amount to a monumental year not just for transit, but for the New Jersey residents, commuters and visitors who depend on it.”
This budget also comes as Murphy announced for the fifth year that fares to ride NJ Transit will not increase.
While the infusion of cash for the coming fiscal year will help get major projects off the ground, the agency still has lingering budget issues.
In May, NJ Transit was about $50 million short of what it had budgeted for passenger revenues, indicating that ridership on the agency’s trains, light rail and buses is still lagging behind expectations. Only revenue from train tickets is above budgeted expectations, and it has increased on average 10% each month since July 2020 except a dip this past winter amid the omicron variant, board documents show.
According to NJ Transit's spring budget forecasts, $362 million was expected to be transferred from the capital fund to cover operating expenses in fiscal year 2023, using a more than three-decade practice that has made it difficult for the agency to keep up with urgent capital needs, like station improvements, expansion and buying new trains and buses. Mechanical failures have become the No. 1 cause of train cancellations, as the agency still largely relies on 40- and 50-year-old equipment that needs to be replaced.
The Murphy administration was also six months late this year in making state operating assistance payments to NJ Transit, but caught up this month with a $58.3 million payment.
While the infusion of money for the coming fiscal year will give a significant boost to the cash-strapped agency, it is not guaranteed for subsequent years, making it difficult to invest in years-long capital projects. Plus, NJ Transit expects coronavirus relief money to dry up in fiscal year 2026, the same year transit officials anticipate a $549 million funding gap.
Colleen Wilson covers the Port Authority and NJ Transit for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering the region’s transportation systems and how they affect your commute, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NJ Transit could get $814M for station upgrades if Murphy signs off