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news release

P.O. Box 600
Trenton, NJ

Contact: Brendan Gill or Erin Phalon
609-530-4280

RELEASE: February 28, 2006

 

Acting Commissioner Kris Kolluri's opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee

 

Thank you Chairman Adler and members of the Judiciary Committee.

I am honored to appear before you as Governor Corzine's choice to head the Department of Transportation.

I thank the Governor for giving me this remarkable opportunity.

 

I came to the United States 20 years ago with my parents. They sacrificed everything to provide a better life for my brother and I.

They instilled in me the values of hard work, integrity and commitment to community.

These values have and will continue to guide me through my life.

As a professional, I have spent 14 of the last 15 years in public service.

I began my career working for Congressman Rob Andrews.   He taught me the importance of public trust and accountability.

If I have been blessed with one mentor over the last 15 years, it is Rob Andrews.

I am truly fortunate to have his guidance and friendship.

In addition to spending over a decade working on Capitol Hill for Congressmen Andrews, Holt and Gephardt, I have had the honor of working at the New Jersey Department of Transportation as an Assistant Commissioner and then Chief of Staff.

I served previous Commissioners, Jamie Fox and Jack Lettiere.

It is rare to be able to call a person boss, mentor and friend. Jamie and Jack are all those to me.

During my tenure at the Department I witnessed first-hand how a transportation project directly impacts the economy and quality of life of residents.

I am fully aware that the job of Commissioner brings with it awesome responsibilities.

The most important mandate of this office is to ensure that our 15,289 lane miles of roadways and 2,346 bridges are safe.

It is also to ensure that more than 800,000 daily riders on buses, trains, and light rail can expect safe, reliable service.

That is what the people of this State expect and deserve.

I also recognize that the capital program is crucial to ensuring economic growth and prosperity.

New Jersey's multi-billion dollar network of roads, rails, waterways and airports moves over 375 million tons of freight annually, generating billions of dollars for the State's economy.

I am prepared to work tirelessly to fulfill my obligations and the trust that the Governor and hopefully the Legislature places in me.

But my efforts along with the employees of New Jersey Department of Transportation and NJ TRANSIT are not enough.

The Transportation Trust Fund, which faces insolvency, must be replenished immediately.

Let me take a moment to address this crucial issue.

Since 1984, the TTF has been the cornerstone of economic growth in this State.

It has ensured the safe, efficient and reliable movement of people and goods, and it supports over 100,000 jobs annually.

In June 2006, the TTF will be completely insolvent.

The consequence of this insolvency is that the New Jersey Department of Transportation and NJ TRANSIT will shut down core capital functions.

We would be unable to perform the most basic safety and emergency repairs on our roads, bridges and railroads.

We would be forced to eliminate $150 million in grants to local municipalities, which provide vital property tax relief.

Insolvency would jeopardize New Jersey's share of federal transportation dollars as federal matching funds will not be met.

These consequences are not acceptable to Governor Corzine and they are not acceptable to me.

On Friday each of you received a copy of the Governor's Plan to Reform, Replenish and Grow the Trust Fund.

This plan funds a five-year, $1.6 billion annual capital program.

 

What does this mean?

First, it will demonstrate to the federal government that New Jersey will meet its matching requirements by putting forward a plan backed by the full faith and credit of the State of New Jersey.

Second, at $1.6 billion a year, the Governor's plan represents the largest TTF capital program in the State's history.

The three most significant elements of the financial plan are:

Local Aid to counties and municipalities will increase by $25 million for a total of $175 million.

As you know, the Local Aid program provides important property tax relief by funding local transportation improvements such as intersection improvements and safety enhancements.

Just as the highway system has been in a state of a decline, so have the local roads.   This increase will go a long way toward their rehabilitation.

NJDOT's capital plan will increase by $229 million for a total of $750 million.

Additional funds will be used to advance repair, rehabilitation and preservation of roads and bridges immediately.

NJ TRANSIT's capital plan will increase by $145 million for a total of $675 million.   Additional funds will help maintain the system in a state of good repair, ensure reliability and upgrade rolling stock.

Specifically, we will:

 

Replace 230 Arrow III rail cars on the Northeast Corridor, North Jersey Coast Line and the Morris and Essex Lines;
 
Overhaul 148 Comet III and IV coaches, and;
 
Replace 42 remaining diesel locomotives.

 

We will also replace every one of our 1,200 transit-style buses.

Governor Corzine's plan doesn't only replenish and grow the TTF.

It also reforms it.

Yes, the plan refinances some debt to fund the capital program.

But for the first time in history, we will dedicate all 10.5 cents of the motor fuels tax to the TTF.

Also, we will begin the process of recapturing and redirecting the toll road contribution to the TTF, which hasn't been done since 2000.

Under the plan, we will freeze capitalized maintenance transfers from the TTF at current levels or less.

We will make sure that all project line items in the capitalized maintenance program have a five-year useful life, as required by law.

The capital program will also maintain a “pay as you go” to prevent a program solely reliant on debt-financing.

Over the next five years, “pay as you go” will total $594 million.

Finally, the Governor has also called for the creation of an independent Financial Policy Review Board to restore confidence in the governance of trust fund investments.

The plan to reform, replenish and grow the TTF ensures that vital capital projects continue in the state while a consensus develops on a long-term solution.

I join the Governor in asking the Legislature to adopt this plan.

In his inaugural speech, Governor Corzine laid out a bold vision to improve the lives of New Jerseyans by making government more responsive and more efficient.

I started my career as a case-worker for Congressman Andrews. I know the importance of responding to constituent concerns in a timely and thorough manner.

Whether it is answering mail at the Department or ensuring that residents riding on trains or buses have proper and timely information, we will work hard to make sure it happens.

I am also committed to operational and investment efficiencies.

In my first week, I proposed a significant reduction in the Department's operation budget starting with political appointees.

These cuts will be permanent.

 

And, we're identifying more business efficiencies to reduce NJ TRANSIT's operating expenses, as well as opportunities to increase commercial revenues.

I'd like to spend a moment on investment efficiencies.

As we develop this year's capital program, I have directed my senior staff to incorporate smart growth principles into our investment strategy.

Over the last decade, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on highway expansion projects that contributed to the proliferation of sprawl development and added traffic congestion.

More troubling was that the Department found itself spending millions more to correct those mistakes.   That practice must stop.

We will incorporate principles of land use planning into our projects so that mistakes of the past are not repeated.

We will continue the long-standing commitment to Fix-It-First and will explore context-sensitive and smart growth alternatives to costly projects.

In addition, we will get back to our core mission of building safe and efficient roads and bridges - not the equivalent of Taj Mahals.

I will work hard to make sure that value engineering is the common denominator of all projects in the capital program.

Let me assure this Committee that the operational and investment efficiencies I intend to put in place will not marginalize safety.

One death on our highways or bridges is too many.

Ensuring the safety of all who use our highways will be my highest priority as Commissioner.

I will take the Department's Safety First initiative in a new direction by:

 

Increasing the total miles of crossover median barriers;

 

Investing more in safe routes to school for our children;

 

Prioritizing improvements to fixed and movable bridges;

 

Partnering with law enforcement.

 

The public has a basic expectation that roads will be kept safe and smooth, infrastructure will be maintained, and their commute to work will be as painless as possible.

The challenge of meeting this expectation becomes more difficult as limited funding competes for an ever-growing list of priorities.

We can begin meeting this challenge if we are committed to a paradigm of appropriate levels of investment, streamlined processes and efficiencies.

The Governor's plan to reform, replenish and grow the TTF does that.

Let me conclude by addressing the issue of ethics in government.

Governor Corzine has made restoring the public's confidence in government a priority.   I share this commitment.

For example, I have gone above and beyond any statutory requirement and have recused myself from any matters in which my former employer is representing a client at the Department.

If Parker McCay has a pending issue in front of the Department, I will not meet, discuss or make decisions on that matter.   Period.

I have filed the appropriate notice at the Commission on Ethical Standards and have notified all senior staff at the Department.

Mr. Chairman, under my leadership, the Department will commit itself to making real progress for the people of this State.

We will not shy away from tough decisions if they are the right decisions.   Nor will we be bashful about soliciting outside help.

The source of the idea is less important than the quality of the outcome, and I look forward to working with local governments, with the legislature and with every stakeholder to ensure the best possible results for the people of this State.

The Department will reduce red tape; projects will be expedited and money spent on the street will be maximized.

 

I count my prior experience at the Department as an asset that allows me to minimize the learning curve that a new Commissioner inevitably faces.

We have a responsibility to the taxpayers to put forward initiatives that are ambitious yet realistic to ensure a transportation system that is safe and efficient both today and in the future.

I take my responsibility to implement the Governor's vision to instill confidence in government and increase efficiency very seriously.   I commit to meeting this challenge while enhancing quality of life and improving safety.

Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before this committee.

I am happy to take any questions you may have.

 

 
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  Department of Transportation
  P.O. Box 600
  Trenton, NJ 08625-0600
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  Last Updated:  March 1, 2006