Latest News Candidate Menendez: Repair our crumbling roads and bridges or fight climate change? Let’s do both. | Opinion

By Rob Menendez:


The Newark Bay-Hudson County Turnpike Extension project has been the subject of much discussion here in Hudson County.

Proponents of the project focus on the fact that it will replace an outdated bridge, roads and elevated structures that are nearing the end of their service life and pose an ongoing threat to those who use the extension.

Then there are local officials, residents, and environmental advocates who are concerned about this project’s environmental impact, specifically with respect to the widening of the Turnpike. As someone raising a young family right off of Exit 14B, I appreciate these concerns as I and my family will be living with any of the adverse environmental consequences of this project.

Unfortunately, to date, we have framed this conversation as a binary choice between investing in our infrastructure and protecting our environment. Most people have accepted this as the premise of any discussion regarding the project. I don’t.

I don’t believe that infrastructure and the health of our communities need to be in conflict.

I do believe that climate change is the existential threat of our generation.

And I do believe that we need to invest in our infrastructure.

So when I look at the extension project, I see an opportunity to build the transportation infrastructure of tomorrow while we fight the ongoing threat of climate change.

Here’s how:

1. Approximately 80% of the extension is carried on elevated structures and bridges constructed in the 1960s, which are nearing the end of their service life. Google “Bridges Collapsing in America” and you can watch videos of what will happen if we do nothing.

Simply put: we need to replace the Newark Bay Bridge and the elevated roadways of the Turnpike Extension. It is hard to find someone who disagrees with that.

2. Locally, we should be proactive in ensuring that this project benefits our communities. Critics of the project are right to call out any potential harm an expansion may cause but we should be just as vocal in advocating for ways to make the project work for all of us. Here are two suggestions to start the conversation:

Incorporate into the project an exclusive Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lane.

Opponents of this project point out that adding new lanes to the extension will induce demand and increase the number of cars, traffic and pollution in our local communities.

But if we reserve any new lanes for the exclusive use of a BRT system, we can address that concern while also creating the backbone for a new BRT network connecting our state’s two largest cities — Newark and Jersey City — as well as the surrounding areas. This is a simple, efficient solution to move people in the region faster and in a more environmentally friendly way and would complement any additional infrastructure investments like the extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail.

Design a trucks-only exit and entrance that benefits Bayonne and Greenville.

Most of the conversation regarding the project has focused on the traffic patterns of vehicles heading toward the Holland Tunnel but that neglects how this project could benefit families in Bayonne and the Greenville section of Jersey City.

As our economy continues to rely largely on the movement of goods, we need to ensure that the vehicles transporting those items spend as little time in our communities as possible. For all the discussion of how this project may impact families in Hoboken and Downtown Jersey City, we should be thinking of those who already shoulder an enormous environmental burden and ensure that this project benefits them and the quality of these communities.

A trucks-only exit and entrance could reduce pollution and increase safety by limiting the time these diesel vehicles spend on local streets and ensuring that the extension remains a critical part of our regional freight and logistics infrastructure.

Ultimately, our infrastructure and mass transit systems are reflections of our collective will to take on big projects and deliver for all of our communities.

This is our moment to take bold action.

This is our moment to show we can deliver for our communities.

And together, we can get it done.