NEWARK, N.J. — A little-known benefit for transit riders was promoted by N.J. Transit Executive Director Richard Sarles during his testimony before the Assembly Transportation Committee.
The new federal stimulus law allows riders to double their savings on annual transportation costs by participating in workplace programs in which pre-tax wages are set aside to reimburse transit costs. Sarles also testified on an array of transit projects being accelerated with an estimated $424 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds.
Under the wage-withholding program for transit purchases, commuters can now have up to $230 per month withheld from their paychecks on a pre-tax basis for transit expenses, up from the prior limit of $120. This adjustment potentially saves transit commuters hundreds of dollars per year.
Investments in all three of N.J. Transit travel modes – commuter rail, light rail and bus – are included in the geographically balanced package of projects being advanced with the ARRA funding, Sarles told the committee members.
“The influx of funding will create jobs and stimulate the economy by allowing N.J. Transit to accelerate projects throughout the state, providing lasting assets that will improve the transit network for our customers,” Sarles said after the hearing.
More than a dozen N.J. Transit projects meet strict federal guidelines that aim to ensure the swift expenditure of funds New Jersey receives for ARRA funding, committee members were told. Under the guidelines, N.J. Transit must obligate at least 50 percent of the apportioned funds within 180 days. As a result, only projects that have already received federal environmental approvals or that are exempt from that process are being accelerated.
Additionally, all projects are subject to the approval of three regional oversight committees, called Metropolitan Planning Organizations, which guide the federal transportation expenditures.
The North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority meets tomorrow to vote on $342 million in stimulus-funded projects while the South Jersey Transportation Planning Organization meets Monday. The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission approved project expenditures last week. The SJTPO and DVRPC have a combined oversight of $82 million in ARRA-funded projects.
Southern New Jersey ARRA-funded projects
- River LINE/Atlantic City Rail Line Transfer Station – $40 million for new intermodal transit center in Pennsauken.
- River LINE cab signals – $24 million to upgrade signal system, laying groundwork for state-of-the-art positive train stop system to meet Federal Railroad Administration requirements by 2015.
- Atlantic City Rail Line track tie-replacement program – Support for $12.7 million program to ensure long-term reliability.
Northern and Central New Jersey ARRA-funded projects
- Lower Hack Drawbridge – $30 million for phase II of this rehabilitation project. This bridge carries Morris & Essex Lines trains over the Hackensack River between Jersey City and Kearny.
- Morristown Line signal system – $25 million to accommodate bi-directional train operation on each track between Summit and Denville, which will provide more flexibility and reduces delays.
- Newark Penn Station Plaza – $17.3 million project to improve pedestrian and vehicular traffic circulation along Raymond Plaza West.
- Plauderville Station – $15 million for a new Plauderville Station in Garfield to make it fully ADA accessible to all customers.
- Hudson-Bergen Light Rail – $15 million project for new interlocking near Danforth Station that allows for more local service.
- Edison Station Park & Ride – $11 million to add nearly 500 parking spaces, more than doubling current parking capacity.
- Bloomfield Bus Shelters – $1 million for new shelters to support enhanced bus service along Bloomfield Avenue in Bloomfield and Newark.
- Mass Transit Tunnel – $130 million to advance final design of this $8.7 billion project featuring two new trans-Hudson commuter rail tunnels and an expanded Penn Station in New York. The first two construction contracts will be advertised tomorrow.
- Montclair-Boonton Line and Main Line track work – $22 million will fund improvements on three lines, including replacing track on the Montclair-Boonton and Main lines. Funds will also support a project to replace ties on the Atlantic City Rail Line. All three projects are designed to keep the lines in a state of good repair.
Statewide ARRA-funded projects
- Vehicles for Access Link paratransit service, rural transportation and Atlantic City jitney service – $20.8 million will support the purchase of new vehicles.
- Bus and rail preventive maintenance and equipment overhaul – $70.8 million statewide program will benefit equipment devoted to service in southern New Jersey.
- Bus shelters – $2.5 million for new shelters statewide, including Bloomfield Avenue in Bloomfield and Newark.