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.

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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.