By Donald Norcross
No one likes traffic. Or potholes. Or even driving through the roadwork that must occur to fix those problems.
But I, for one, am grateful to see the major construction projects taking place at the infamous intersection of Interstate Routes 295 and 76, and State Route 42, where traffic volume exceeds 250,000 vehicles every day. The state Department of Transportation calls it the "Direct Connection" project. I give it a different name: "Malfunction Junction." Either way, it's a mess.
The seven-year, $900 million project currently underway to fix it will be time and money well spent for the future of South Jersey's economy. But for the time being, it is still a headache for commuters and a significant source of stress for local residents. Now, our commuters may have another bottleneck to contend with: Washington gridlock.
Our nation's Highway Trust Fund is set to expire Friday. And true to form, Congress is in the slow lane, about to drive straight off a cliff. Letting the fund lapse would put the brakes on road and bridge projects like Direct Connection during the busy summer construction season, sidelining hard-working South Jersey construction workers and putting the safety of travelers at risk. The project would end up taking longer and costing us all more.
Delays would even stall a separate, but just as critical, road project in the same area set to begin in 2017 known as "Missing Moves," which will construct on-and off ramps between Route 42 to I-295.
I'm determined to not let any delays happen, which is why I've now voted twice for short-term measures to keep America moving. Those votes were the legislative equivalent of patching a pothole. What we need is a meaningful, long-term fix to our nation's crumbling infrastructure. Right now, more than 2,300 of New Jersey's 6,000-plus bridges are considered deficient or obsolete. The situation is just as dire all across our country.
So, how do we "Fix the Fund?" I'm open to sensible solutions, like a bipartisan proposal I've sponsored that would reverse the U.S. tax loopholes that some American corporations have used to shelter cash overseas. Instead, let's use those funds to help build a better America through a private-public infrastructure program.
That's one idea. And there are others. But instead of seriously debating them, Congress is about to either let the existing program run dry or kick the can down the road yet again. What motorists and businesses need is predictability so they can plan ahead and make investments in our area. That won't happen if our roads continue to crumble and there's no relief in sight.
So, whenever I pass through Malfunction Junction, I see men and women on crews working hard to earn the money that will go toward their kids' educations. And I see them creating the nexus point that will keep South Jersey moving for decades into the future.
I'll be fighting hard to make sure this work site and countless others like it across the country don't end up empty, even if it means swallowing another short-term extension. But we need a long-term fix. And now is a great time for Congress to get out of neutral so the rest of us can drive easy.
U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, a Camden Democrat, represents New Jersey's First Congressional District in portions of Camden, Gloucester and Burlington counties.