Gas Taxes

New Jersey's Roads Don't Just Suck: They're Massively Expensive, Too

Check out your own state's cost per mile with Reason Foundation's Annual Highway Report.


This new video uses data from Reason Foundation's 21st Annual Highway Report to make a simple but devastating point: New Jersey's roads are paved not with asphalt but wasted taxpayer dollars. (Disclosure: Reason Foundation is the nonprofit that funds this website.)

Indeed, according to the report, the Garden State spends way, way more than other states to maintain its roads:

South Carolina and West Virginia spent just $39,000 per mile of road in 2012 while New Jersey spent over $2 million per state-controlled mile. Rhode Island, Massachusetts, California and Florida were the next biggest spenders, outlaying more than $500,000 per state-controlled mile. 

See where your state stacks up here. 

Spoiler alert: if you live in California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Alaska, or Hawaii, you can suck it in terms of road costs and road quality. But you already knew that, didn't you?

Legislators in Jersey (and many other states) are eyeing ways to pay for more road construction. Recent polls show about 57 percent of Jersey residents are against a gas-tax hike even as five roadways popped up on a list of the "worst traffic bottlenecks" in the country.

Critics of Reason Foundation's methodology counter that a fairer accounting of costs finds that Jersey spends "only" $270,000 per mile on its roads.

Yeah, maybe, but almost certainly not.

Jersey's gas tax is a relatively cheap-o 14.5 cents per gallon while neighboring New York's is a relatively whopping 45 cents per gallon. These taxes are supposed to fund capital road projects and maintenance but neither is accomplishing that basic task. Capital New York notes that while New Jersey's transportation fund is wallowing in debt (about one-third of receipts go to debt service), New York's fund is giving away money to a wide range of activities, with less than a quarter of receipts going to road projects. Give the state too little money and they need more; give it too much and they spend it on whatever they want to.

And there's this for Jersey folks:

New Jerseyans pay an average $601 annually in extra repairs due to driving on roads in need of fixing, according to [Department of Transportation] data.

As someone who learned to drive on the not-at-all-mean-but-incredibly-pothole-ridden streets in and around Middletown, New Jersey and who still wakes up in night sweats about sliding across an ice-covered Alfred E. Driscoll Bridge from time to time, I'd say this much is certain: New Jersey residents are paying more for repairs and maintenance than they should be.

For all sorts of reasons, ranging from institutionalized rake-offs to demand for living, New Jersey is an expensive place to live. Lots of people want to live in a relatively tight space, so it's always going to cost a premium to work and live there. But when it comes to downsizing government, good luck with all that. New Jersey consistently has among the very highest state-and-local taxes in the country and given the amount of people (read: voters) who are somehow on the public-sector payroll, it's going to be a tough sell to cut spending in any real way. Which doesn't mean it can't be done—just that it will take a commitment to selling off or leasing huge cash cows such as Turnpike and Garden State Parkway and other serious measures to restore the greatest goddamn state in the Union to anything approaching fiscal solvency.

Back in 2011, Reason TV released a video based on Reason Foundation research about "busting congestion in Chicago (or any other city)." A good chunk of New Jersey's roadways are like a giant city and most of the stuff here could be adapted easily to the state. But that would also mean doing things in new, smart, and different ways. Which will certainly be a challenge anywhere in the United States.

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  1. Can’t we just sell New Jersey to China or something?

    1. Local governance would likely improve.

      1. As a resident of NJ, I can say it could hardly get worse.

  2. To be fair, Jersey has several layers of mafia payoffs and party boss kickbacks baked into the cost of their road construction and maintenance.

    1. And several layers of folks who have pissed off the local mob bosses baked into the roads themselves.

  3. For what it’s worth, a lot of people who spit on the concept of central planning will be the first to tell you that “without the government, we couldn’t have any decent roads”. Same goes for just about any economic goods and services (virtually) monopolized and provided by the state.

    1. without the government, we couldn’t have any decent roads

      It’s not that we couldn’t, it’s that we wouldn’t; a fully private highway system is theoretically viable, but I think it’s wildly impractical.

      1. As technology improves it is becoming more and more practical, though. Just look at the E-ZPass system. This probably would have developed a lot sooner if the roads were privately owned.

        1. Sure, but that’s an argument for selling the roads after they’re constructed. I just doubt that the majority of roads where EZ Pass is in use would have ever been constructed if you would have waited for private industry to do so.

          There would be a road system, of course; it would just look a lot different than what there is today. And I mostly prefer what currently exists over what I speculate the alternative would look like.

          1. And I mostly prefer what currently exists over what I speculate the alternative would look like.

            That is about as hollow a motivation as there can possibly be. Moreover, nobody can go back in time and change the past. We have what we have, any sane plan of privatization is going to start with what exists and build on that.

      2. “but I think it’s wildly impractical”

        So the state monopolizing roads, wasting resources, and refusing to implement the latest in road technologies is practical? Maybe the state should build homes, skyscrapers, and power plants because these things are so complex, yet are built efficiently through private production.

      3. Considering that the entire point of the article that spawned this comment thread is to point out how many of the government-owned, tax-funded roads are barely more than asphalt on the ground, I can hardly see how privately owned, fee-funded roads could be any worse.

        But yes, when you get to exempt yourself from all the rules you impose on others, you can make anything “impractical” for someone else to do.

  4. Oh, HELL no. It’s bad enough New Jerksey blocks our view of the ocean, I’ll be goddamned if I’ll stand here and watch the Keep-Your-Guard-Up State tries to steal my Pennsylvania’s rightful place at the top of the suckiest roads list.

    1. What’s the vile pork based substance Pennsyltuckians consume in vast quantities? spackle? or spittal? or spritzel?

      Well, you guys will can keep that stuff.

      1. Ah scrapple, with the appearance and texture of fried diarrhea and a flavor to match. A perfect example of why we must seek to preserve all local foodways, for these unique and wondrous local recipes are the bedrock of our great nation.

    2. Penn. does suck on roads. What’s with the 55 mph freeways and the stop signs at the top of all the entry ramps? Kind of defeats the purpose, don’t you think?

  5. Keep this video in mind when the next recession hits, which will be within the next three quarters, because the Keynesians will immediate start squawking about the immediate necessity of stimulus spending on infrastructure. Because ‘spending on infrastructure’ in New Jersey is code for throwing vast sums at layers of incompetent cronies sucking off the teat. The Port Authority of NY/NY is basically mobbed controlled.

    1. +7 no show and +5 no work jobs.

  6. Q) Why are New Yorkers pissed off all the time?

    A) The light at the end of the tunnel is New Jersey.

  7. After a quick glance at the study I’m left with a few concerns.

    1) It looks like they didn’t control for traffic. They just broke it down into urban highway, rural highway and arterial highway. But amount and weight of traffic is an important factor in road wear and tear. It looks like they have the data to measure “lane miles” instead of just “miles”, but they only do this for a couple of their measures…

    2) It looks like they didn’t control for climate either. Snow and ice can do a lot of damage to a road surface.

    3) It looks like they didn’t control for population density along the highways. Again, they just painted all highways into one of three broad categories. But “urban” highways in West Virginia are nothing like “urban” highways in NYC.

    I’d have to read the whole report in detail to be sure, but I think they’re comparing apples, oranges and tomatoes here.

    1. 1) True. Yet the state was robbing gas tax money in the ’00s, so fuck them.
      2) My shitty state of CA has nice weather yet ranks 45.
      3) Already built out in the major metro areas, so I would suggest is doesn’t apply to CA.

      It’s all about the payoffs to friends and family (not to be confused with Sprint’s Friends and Family program)

  8. I am curious about the category of maintenence. Does this include construction costs of new roads ?

    How the hell can even the most crony set up defend 2 million dollars per mile for road maintenence ?

    That figure seems even high for new contruction not not even realistic for maintenence.

    I would gladly contract road maintenence to NJ for 1 million per mile.

  9. I think it is cruel to blame potholes on Chris Christie’s weight. They need to make stronger roads.

  10. Construction on Route 80 last year screwed up my wife’s shitty BMW in all kinds of ways.

    1. I live near 287. The new exits from/to 287 to 80 took 3 years to complete and they’re not done yet.

  11. Colorado is 33. I know a lot of the gas tax is diverted to bike paths and mass transit. I like the light rail, though. I guess if local cities would rather build bike paths and trains than roads, that’s their business; I object to state and federal funds, taken from people who live elsewhere, being spent as “matching funds”.

  12. Yet most road bureacracies block crumb rubber and advanced road technologies. These are things market roads couldn’t do if the wanted to compete and survive.

    Another overlooked thing is traffic. There is no incentive for road bureaucracies to better traffic conditions. Most time they set rediculously low speed limits, make bike lanes, and can’t even get traffic signals right.

    Most road crossings involve pedestrians, who should either go under or over road crossings. This would prevent pedestrian interaction with thousand lb vegicles, and wouldn’t impede traffic flow. Individuals would choose routes with less traffic and better travel time, thereby rewarding companies or individuals that own and maintain the roads.

    Also instead of cops or traffic agents ticketing people, businesses would be able to charge for street parking, or even offer free parking for a certain time for their customers. Even an individual’s property parking spot can be “rented” by someone. A meter, or electronic meter can be used, and anyone trying to avoid it can be towed as they are violating the property rights of the owner.

  13. A state that can’t even manage to build a few roads, should be not state at all.

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