Confirmation Hearing Remarks
NJ Senate Judiciary Committee
May 14, 2018
Chairman Scutari, Vice-Chairwoman Gill, and distinguished members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. I am honored to appear before you this afternoon as Governor Murphy’s nominee for Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
I want to thank the Governor for giving me two gifts – the first is to serve as the chief advocate for transportation in New Jersey, and the second is to return home.
Even though I have been out of state for almost seven years, New Jersey was never in my rear-view mirror.
I want the members of this committee to feel assured that I have the depth of understanding of our government—and more importantly, its complex transportation infrastructure—that will support Governor Murphy and his vision for transportation in this great State.
I know you have my resume, but to briefly recap: I began my career working in the Mercer County Affirmative Action Office where, amongst other things, I assisted minority contractors to learn how to prequalify and bid on county contracts. From there, an opportunity opened at the New Jersey Treasurer’s Office where, as a young analyst, I gained a broad understanding of state government and how business is done in Trenton.
During that time, I attended graduate school in the evenings after which I went to work for IBM, leaving New Jersey for the first time. I
was offered an opportunity at the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and I returned home. I spent the next 21 years learning the business from the bottom up. I was able to work my way up through the ranks at the Turnpike and ended my career there in the highest office at that agency serving as its Executive Director from 2008 until 2010.
In 2011, I began a new adventure at the Florida Department of Transportation, where I served as Executive Director and CEO of Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, a district within the Florida DOT. A system of over 500 centerline miles and $1 billion in revenues, the Enterprise’s capital program more than doubled during my tenure and received three credit rating upgrades - one from each of the rating agencies. I am very proud of the work I was able to accomplish in Florida.
As I sit before you, I can say without any hesitation that I understand the tremendous responsibility commensurate with the office of the New Jersey Commissioner of Transportation. More so, I am keenly aware that it comes with an even greater amount of accountability. I believe I am well prepared to face both the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Assemblyman McKeon reminded me at my first budget hearing last month that there are 9 million people living in New Jersey and that a day does not go by that the transportation network does not affect their lives in some form or another. Clearly, it is the times that the system fails that the magnitude of the impact is most noticeable.
Therefore, I understand clearly that accountability is, first and foremost, to the hundreds of thousands of people who use our transportation network on a daily basis—and to you, to the leadership elected to represent the hardworking taxpayers of this state.
Transportation enhances the quality of our lives. It enables our communities to thrive. It fosters the commercial and industrial development that we desire and provides the ability for future generations to prosper.
Since my arrival in January, every day has presented a new opportunity to meet the NJDOT team, and learn more about how we can better serve our customers. Similarly, I have spent time at NJ Transit, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority reacquainting myself with the scope of their operations and their needs to continue delivering excellent service to our customers.
As you know, as one of his first orders of business, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order No. 5, which mandates a full audit of NJ Transit operations, and placed responsibility in me to ensure the objectivity of that audit and the implementation of corrective measures.
The contract for the audit was awarded through a competitive process to North Highlands Company, which has extensive consulting experience with transit agencies. A kick-off meeting last week to initiate the effort and work is underway as we sit here today. I am confident that they will deliver comprehensive recommendations by the fall.
I am also committed to demonstrating our ability to deliver capital programs financed through the recently re-authorized Transportation Trust Fund. I have been working with senior leadership at NJDOT to refresh the agency’s organizational structure in order to ensure an efficient workflow so that our performance metrics continue to move in the right direction with respect to the condition of our roads and bridges – an overall state of good repair.
Through my Commitment to Communities initiative, the Department is fully committed to helping local governments spend the significantly increased level of aid that the reauthorized Transportation Trust Fund law affords them. Through an initiative to raise awareness, proactively communicate pertinent information and offer training in the application process, we hope that our counties and municipalities will be well positioned to complete important local projects without the need to impact property taxes.
Another phenomenal transportation tool is the newly instituted Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which is being provided $22.5 million in seed money in next year’s budget and is funded through our Local Aid Infrastructure Fund. This bank will allow local governments to secure low cost loans that can be leveraged against the grants-in-aid to address larger scale projects, the costs of which would far exceed a typical local aid grant. The success of local governments in building local projects and spending their additional capital will mean success for all of us.
I believe we are heading into a transformative period for transportation in our state, one in which real progress will be measured by the restoration of faith in our public transit system, and by delivering on the promise of “state of good repair,” inherent in the reauthorized Transportation Trust Fund.
We will build our success on pillars of enhanced connectivity across our state and region, of applying the latest technologies to help tackle our problems, and on transparency to the public and improved customer service.
The Governor has made clear that he wants those agencies under his leadership to be forward-facing, fully transparent and customer-oriented. I could not agree more. Making sure that our accomplishments are understood and that our performance is tracked visibly will be evidence of our success.
I know that we can do a better of communicating our accomplishments to you in the legislature and to an often skeptical public.
To that extent, the Department’s presence on social media platforms has been increased to better deliver important information to our customers and share the work of the Department and we are working on a refreshed web-site that will be customer-focused and user friendly.
In closing, if a healthy heart represents the strength of our economy, then our transportation infrastructure is the “circulatory system” of that economy.
While we continue to focus on our infrastructure, we need to build linkages between modes of transportation and its users and the communities in which those users live.
In other words, we need to connect.
At its root, transportation is connectivity and connectivity is the new operative strategy.
We must connect our cities and our towns to provide mobility.
We must connect our transit services to provide economic opportunities and economic development.
We must connect our roads with the innovation that is becoming more prevalent in our vehicles to increase safety and help ease congestion. We cannot build our way out of congestion but we can use the transformative technologies being developed for both in-vehicle and in-infrastructure to add to the useful life of our transportation assets.
I believe that a safe, effective and efficient transportation system at its best should be taken for granted. But, by that I do not mean “forgotten” or “neglected” but “expected.”
The system must serve its users. And it should do so without the need for users to think about whether it is functioning.
The public does not want to—nor should it have to—worry about the condition of our roads and bridges, or whether the trains and buses will run on time and operate safely.
That is MY job! That is the job that I pledge the agencies under my direction will focus on day in and day out.
If issues arise that are of concern to you please know that my door is open and my phone is on. You can always reach out to me.
Thank you, again, Mr. Chairman and fellow Committee members for your courtesy, and I welcome any questions you may have at this time.