Mobilizing the Region
Issue 107December 6, 1996

Frank Wilson's History

NJ Transportation Commissioner Frank Wilson resigned before Thanksgiving, announcing he would join a California engineering firm in January. Last week, construction industry figures told the Star Ledger that Wilson's main achievement in office was to "unclog the DOT's muddy project pipeline." Wilson has apparently streamlined planning and other procedures to permit capital projects to move into construction faster.

Unfortunately, the projects Wilson accelerated represent not transportation policy innovation, but old thinking that will ultimately prove costly to New Jersey and the metropolitan region. The state is embarked on an ambitious highway contruction program. Despite NJ's serious road maintenance needs, over half of federal transportation funds spent by NJ DOT in the last several fiscal years has been for new highways or highway lanes, and nearly half of the state funds earmarked for Wilson's "accelerated project list" will also be spent on new highway capacity. For this reason, land use experts have flunked DOT on its compliance with NJ's State Plan, which seeks to preserve open space and channel development and infrastructure investment into existing centers and corridors. Transportation watchdogs have also rapped the agency for inattention to pedestrian safety and local interest in planning for bicycling and walking, and concern over ever-growing traffic.

Prospects for new policy directions seemed more auspicious early in Wilson's tenure, when the state-wide transportation plan crafted under his supervision discussed the long term sprawl, pollution and transportation problems that additional highway capacity could create, and aimed to institute time-of-day variable tolls at Hudson River crossings. It's hard to tell whether, in cranking up the road building machinery, Wilson bowed to pressure for quick job creation from the State House, or simply figured the percentage was greater with the highway lobby. The overall impact of Wilson's tenure will be to leave New Jersey more car dependent than ever.

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