TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney to facilitate the timely contracting and completion of transportation capital projects was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee yesterday.

The bipartisan bill, cosponsored by Senator Steve Oroho (R-Sussex), would permit the state Department of Transportation to contract with county engineering departments and private engineering firms to complete projects.

“The Department of Transportation has been unable to fully expend funding available through the Transportation Trust Fund for critical capital projects, and now that the TTF has been increased from $1.6 billion to $2 billion a year, the problem is even more acute,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “We urgently need to fix our transportation infrastructure, and it makes no sense to have projects sitting on the drawing board for lack of engineers when we have building and construction trades people ready to do the work.”

The Sweeney-Oroho bill would allow the state DOT to turn over projects to county engineering departments that have the capacity to get them underway, as well as to hire private engineers to oversee construction projects to make sure they are completed properly and on time.

The measure also allows multiple transportation projects that are of similar size, design or located in the same geographic region to be bundled and put out to bid together. It can take up to six months for a single project to move through the DOT’s bidding process.

“Pennsylvania found that it saved both time and money by allowing project bundling,” Senator Sweeney noted. “Companies can bid lower if they are able to work on multiple projects at once.”

The bill requires the DOT to develop an annual highway project priority list for each county from a list provided by the counties of all structurally deficient bridges and highways, and establishes a process for grants to be awarded to projects that improve freight rail infrastructure and safety.

The Sweeney legislation also calls for the creation of a New Jersey Transportation Research Center within the DOT to award grants to New Jersey universities and research institutions to directly support in-state academic research into transportation infrastructure needs. This would enable New Jersey universities to qualify for federal Department of Transportation research money under the University Transportation Center grant program.

The bill, which passed the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee by an 11-0 vote, now goes to the full Senate for approval.

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