In his Tuesday press conference, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state will expedite infrastructure projects as a focus of its plan for economic recovery. He specifically mentioned the new Penn Station and LaGuardia projects, saying that not only does the state need to create jobs, with commuter and air passenger volume down, this is the perfect time to take on those projects with limited disruption.
As of 9 a.m. Tuesday March 17
For most companies in the construction industry, it remains business as usual with bid openings and construction continuing, states are stepping in to suspend some projects as part of the extraordinary measures being taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is suspending all construction projects through March 30, but PennDOT crews will be available for “critical functions and emergency maintenance.”
In Bergen County, NJ, county executive Jim Tedesco ordered all construction suspended and utility roadwork done only in emergency situations. It remains to be seen if this is enforceable or companies will follow Tedesco’s order or fight it.
But while non-emergency construction was being suspended in some places, the governors of New York and New Jersey are looking to turn college dorms, former nursing homes and other buildings into medical facilities to treat patients as hospitals are expected to be overwhelmed. Private developers, construction workers, and the National Guard are expected to be needed for these emergency projects. The plan is currently a backup in case the federal government does not meet his request to send the Army Corps of Engineers to build temporary hospitals.
Before state and local governments began enacting these more extreme measures to “flatten the curve” of the spread of the disease and its impact on hospitals, there have been reports of specific sites across the country shutting down after a worker tested positive and companies taking precautions to keep workers safe.
The Associated General Contractors has a webpage dedicated to the virus with information about symptoms and what constitutes a reportable workplace illness. “AGC will continue to monitor the situation and update the information on this page accordingly,” the site said.
Over the weekend, the Centers for Disease Control recommended no groups with more than 50 people for approximately eight weeks.
New Jersey governor Phil Murphy presented his state-of-the-state address this week and cited addressing water infrastructure issues and lead exposure as one of his priorities for the coming year.
Murphy spoke about the Newark water crisis last year and pledged to attack the lead issues—in pipes and paint—across the state in a way that would translate into a lot of jobs in the industry.
“We will need to mobilize a veritable army of union workers – plumbers and pipefitters, remediation experts, carpenters and laborers, among so many other tradespeople,” Murphy said.
But that work might not come this year despite the urgency. The governor admitted that the funding is not secured, and the amount needed is unknown at this point. He says it will require “a significant investment” and hopes to let the public decide on election day.
“Let’s work together, now, to come to an agreement on what this investment needs to be — so we can put it before the voters this November, and can invest in our communities that much faster,” he said.
As this is one of Murphy’s major initiatives for 2020, NJ residents can expect more details on his plan to tackle these issues and the possible number of jobs and projects that will be part of the solution in his budget address later in the year.
January brings many state-of-the-state addresses by governors, who announce their priorities and budget plans for the coming year. In Pennsylvania, however, many counties didn’t have to wait for 2020’s speech to know some money was coming their way for infrastructure and construction needs. On December 30, Governor Tom Wolf announced the approval of more than $5 million in funding through the Keystone Communities program for 42 revitalization projects that include construction and business development.
The following funds and projects were included in the governor’s announcement:
- Quakertown: $50,000 façade grant for a façade improvement program in the designated Keystone Main Street area of Quakertown Borough, benefiting at least ten storefronts.
- Redevelopment Authority of Bucks County: $50,000 façade grant for a façade improvement program in downtown Bristol, benefiting at least ten storefronts.
- Lansdowne Economic Development Corp.: $50,000 to assist in the construction of the Lansdowne Maker Space, a 2,500-square-foot tech-based maker space.
- City of Philadelphia: $250,000 for renovations to the Happy Hollow playground at the Happy Hollow Recreation Center in Germantown, to address the failing conditions of the playground and to restructure its layout, install new site furnishings and lighting, replace equipment, purchase and install safety surface material and new outdoor fitness equipment.
Wolf is also hoping his state legislature backs his Restore Pennsylvania multibillion-dollar capital plan that he proposed last year to help with the state’s infrastructure issues. Funding the plan requires a severance tax on natural gas and has met with resistance. Wolf recently tweeted that if the plan gets approved, some of that money can be used to help with the infrastructure issues in Philadelphia schools—including remediating contaminants such as asbestos.
Four Philadelphia schools had to close this school year because of asbestos. The superintendent recently outlined an Environmental Safety Improvement Plan, which will use $12 million in funds from its budget to speed up asbestos abatement in the impacted schools.
The Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) has secured funding to help with the renovation and reopening of Philadelphia’s the Franklin Square Station.
The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded DRPA more than $12.5 million for renovation and reopening of the PATCO Franklin Square Station. The money is a Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program, which is used to invest in projects that will “have a significant local or regional impact.”
The DRPA will finance the rest of the cost of the proposed $30-million project to reopen the station, which has been shuttered for 40 years.
The architecture and engineering design phase is nearly complete, according to officials, and construction on the station–that has been closed since 1979–is expected to begin in late 2020. DRPA has set an opening date of Summer 2023, according to the PATCO press release announcing the funding.
The renovation and construction will improve the station’s civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical systems and provide access in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the release that also said for riders to reach the concourse area, a new head house building will be constructed where the previous head house was located at the corner of 7th and Race Street.
The glass roof on the “head house” would not only allow for natural light but also a green roof of vegetation to help manage stormwater runoff and provide insulation.
When it reopens, Franklin Square will be the first stop on the Pennsylvania side of the Ben Franklin Bridge for the rail line that connects South Jersey to Philadelphia.
As Newark residents deal with the crisis of lead in the water, once again the dangerously aging infrastructure in New Jersey is in the spotlight.
Last month, Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill into law that aims to better the process for Transportation Trust Fund projects, which is intended to reduce delays in planning and bidding and save money. That should also impact the ability to get moving on infrastructure projects around the state, according to the bill sponsors.
“If we are going to improve our failing infrastructure, the state must do a better job with the TTF money.” said assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-Morris), one of the sponsors of the bill.
Projects similar in size and scope that are funded in part or completely through TTF can now be bundled and included under a single contract, according to njspotlight.com. Supporters of the law say that should expedite approvals, control costs and get projects moving more quickly.
State senate president Steve Sweeney said the law will “facilitate the timely contracting and completion of capital projects by allowing third-party engineering consultants to ensure that contractors are completing projects on time and within budget. This will make the construction and repair of vital transportation projects more efficient and more effective. We want to put people to work and get the projects done in a timely manner so that improvements to our roads, bridges and other transportation facilities are made as quickly as possible.”
We’d like to know what you think—will this law have a positive impact?
In a special report analyzing data from a 2018 study, 24/7 Wall Street named the top 35 U.S. cities that could be underwater by the turn of the century. Of those 35, nine were in New Jersey with Hoboken coming in No. 2 on the list.
According to the 24/7 Wall Street, nearly 30 percent of Hoboken’s population with homes is at risk of flooding by 2060 and nearly 50 percent of habitable land will be underwater by then. By 2100, 44 percent of Hoboken’s homes will be at risk of flooding and 71 percent of habitable land will be underwater.
But the mayor of Hoboken pushed back on the report, according to News12 NJ, saying that it didn’t take into account the Rebuild by Design project and initiatives the city has planned and has already put in place to fight the city’s history of flooding, including pumps, resiliency parks and underground retention tanks.
Miami Beach, FL, was No. 1 on the list. The other NJ cities are: Atlantic City (3), Ocean City (12), Ventnor City (16), Pennsville (24), Little Ferry (26), Brigantine (29), Margate City (32) and Secaucus (35).
24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from “Underwater,” published June 2018 by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based environmental watchdog group the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). That study identified U.S. coastal communities where the largest number of residents live in properties that are projected to face by 2060 the highest level of chronic and disruptive flooding, or effective inundation—defined as being at risk of flooding 26 times or more per year. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the number of properties and total value of properties that are exposed to flood risk based on a “high” scenario calculated by the Union for Concerned Scientists.
“Cities and institutions can mitigate flood damage by implementing wetlands, levees, and other mechanisms, and many of the cities on this list have taken steps to implement these measures,” 24/7 Wall Street said. “It is important to note that the estimates published by the UCS do not take into account the mitigating effects of such mechanisms.”
New Jersey has spread the wealth in April with parts of Northern and Southern NJ receiving state funding to move forward with infrastructure projects.
Hoboken received more than $900,000 for various transportation projects through the Municipal Aid Program, the city announced last week. The money will be used for road repaving, the implementation of complete streets, and pedestrian safety upgrades related to Hoboken’s “Vision Zero” program, according to a press release.
“Upgrading our transportation infrastructure, especially our road repaving and pedestrian safety initiatives, are major priorities for my administration,” Mayor Ravi Bhalla said in the announcement. “This funding will help fund our proactive road repaving schedule, with over 100 blocks planned to be repaved in the city this year. I thank Governor Murphy and the State DOT for this generous award.”
In other NJ infrastructure and transit-related project funding news, Murphy announced the Fiscal Year 2019 Safe Streets to Transit Program (SSTT) grants, which were awarded to five municipal projects through the Transit Village grant program. The recipient municipalities are:
- Berkeley Heights, Union County: $410,000
- Delran, Burlington County: $250,000
- Margate, Atlantic County: $150,000
- Red Bank, Monmouth County: $100,000
- Middle Township, Cape May County: $90,000
The $1 million in funding will go toward projects that focus on pedestrian safety to and from transit facilities, such as sidewalks, and projects that create “safe and convenient ways to cross streets and comfortable and attractive environments” near NJ Transit stations.
Like its larger Northeast neighbors Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Delaware is also in need of vital infrastructure and transportation improvements and Governor John Carney addressed those issues in his proposed budget for 2020. Carney’s plan for the next fiscal year includes a Transportation Infrastructure Investment Fund that has $10 million allocated “to improve public infrastructure to support job-creating economic development projects” and a Capital Transportation Plan that designates $3.2 billion through 2025 to “modernize Delaware’s transportation system.”
Delaware took a step toward getting some of that needed construction funded last month when Carney and NJ governor Phil Murphy announced new toll rates at the Delaware Memorial Bridge (DMB) that will fund safety and infrastructure projects by the Delaware River and Bay Authority (DRBA). With the additional revenue, the DRBA now has the resources to fund capital projects planned at Delaware Memorial Bridge including the Cape May-Lewes Ferry Bridge Paint Removal and Recoating ($48.2 million); Suspension Rope Replacement ($24.5 million); Bridge Steelwork Repairs ($40.5 million); Pin and Link Rehabilitation on Both Structures of DMB ($19.7 million); Ship Collision Protection System ($45.2 million); Bridge Deck Repair ($21.5 million); Transfer Bridge Repairs at the Cape May–Lewes Ferry ($4.3 million); and Ferry Repowering Program ($9.5 million).
Like most states across the country, Pennsylvania is need of major infrastructure upgrades. This week, Governor Tom Wolf announced his budget, which included a plan to restore and upgrade infrastructure across the state.
This shale tax is something Wolf has tried in the past, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, which says the state’s Republicans immediately opposed the Democratic governor’s plan and said it would adversely impact the drilling industry in the state.
Pennsylvania currently imposes an impact fee on shale gas wells but does not tax the amount extracted. The fight over the tax could delay the budget from passing and the money from getting to the infrastructure projects where it is needed.