As many as 10,000 New Jersey jobs can be created quickly if a federal economic-stimulus package includes money for highway projects, state Transportation Commissioner Kris Kolluri says.
He says the U.S. government should take a cue from China, which this week announced plans to pump about $586 billion into infrastructure projects to bolster its weakening economy.
About $1.2 billion worth of highway and bridge projects in New Jersey can be started within 90 days if Congress provides the money, Kolluri said in an interview Monday. He said those projects would create about 10,000 jobs in construction and related fields.
In South Jersey, ready-to-go projects include work on the intersection of I-295, I-76 and Route 42; the intersection of I-295 and Route 38; bridge work on the I-295/676 corridor; and the Manahawkin Bay Bridge to Long Beach Island.
President-elect Barack Obama has said he will push a stimulus package through Congress "immediately after" taking office in January if the Bush administration and Congress don't agree on one. Obama has said some of the money should be directed to public-works projects.
No decisions have been made on what kind or size of financial package might be coming. Some Democratic House leaders have said it could be as large as $300 billion.
State leaders around the nation have urged Congress to pump money into infrastructure projects that can be started quickly. Such an infusion of cash, they argue, would create jobs immediately and provide long-term benefits.
In a letter to congressional leaders last week, Gov. Rendell, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said "infrastructure funds will help jump-start these projects, create jobs, and lay the foundation for future economic growth."
Around the country, more than 3,000 highway and bridge projects, worth $18 billion, could be started in 30 to 90 days, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.
The Senate is scheduled to return for a postelection session Monday. House members are to be in Washington that day for organizational meetings, but the House has not decided whether to proceed with a legislative session.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said last week that Democratic leaders in Congress were talking with Republican senators and the White House about passing a stimulus bill this month. Republicans blocked a stimulus bill containing money for transportation projects from coming to a vote in the Senate before the election recess.
President Bush has not expressed support for such a measure.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said last month that "these projects take a long time to get approved, they take a long time for the money to get out into the system, and a lot of the claims that are made about how much transportation could actually build the economy are overblown." Perino told reporters that Bush remained opposed to fresh spending for public-works projects.
In New Jersey, Kolluri said, the economy would also get a boost from the anticipated construction of a rail tunnel under the Hudson River to New York City. That $8.7 billion project is expected to create 6,000 construction jobs and help create 44,000 permanent jobs, state officials say.
The tunnel project's environmental-impact statement received Federal Transit Administration approval last week, clearing the way for federal matching funds.
Construction is expected to start next year, Kolluri said.
Kolluri will leave the top transportation job Dec. 1; Gov. Corzine appointed him last week to head the Schools Development Authority, the state agency that oversees billions of dollars in school construction. As transportation commissioner, he was also chairman of NJ Transit, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, and the South Jersey Transportation Authority.
He said he believed he had achieved four goals he had set as transportation chief: providing new funding for the transportation agencies, creating more efficient operating budgets, substantially increasing mass-transit funding, and developing a new 10-year capital projects plan.