Our lifestyle may founder in its own traffic


By: Packet Editorial
   Anybody who has driven on New Jersey’s roadways knows the "cost" — in terms of both time and temperament — of being stuck in traffic. Thanks to that tie-up at the Turnpike toll booth, or the overturned tractor-trailer on Route 1, or the rush-hour volume at bottlenecks like the Alexander Road bridge or the Route 206-518 intersection, we all know what it’s like to be late for work or miss an important appointment (while wasting gallons of gasoline and bringing not only our radiators but our blood pressure to the boiling point) as we sit … and sit … and sit in another of the Garden State’s patented traffic jams.
   Now comes word from transportation experts at Rutgers that the "cost" of road congestion in New Jersey may be a lot higher than we mere motorists may think. Our lost hours of productivity, wasted gallons of gasoline and doctor visits for treatment of hypertension may mount up to a princely sum of money, but if you want to know who’s really paying a king’s ransom for all these traffic jams, take a look at companies like B&G Foods of Roseland.
   B&G manufactures Ac’cent seasonings, B&M baked beans and other food products and delivers them to markets across the country. According to company officials, road congestion, especially at bridges and tunnels, has forced their drivers to make 20 percent fewer delivery stops than they did five years ago. Traffic is so bad, B&G officials say, that adding even one more stop would add thousands of dollars to their delivery costs.
   Or consider the case of Tropicana Products, which has a major shipping hub in Jersey City and a processing plant at Port Newark-Elizabeth. For Tropicana, the overhead for distribution accounts for 25 percent of the cost of a case of orange juice, and company officials say it isn’t always possible in a competitive market to pass higher delivery costs along to consumers. Among the costs attributable to road congestion, they point out, are the substantial additional wages paid to truckers for all those idle, unproductive hours spent sitting in traffic.
   These companies and others told their tales of woe at a gathering last week at Rutgers, where experts are looking at various strategies for keeping goods manufactured or processed in New Jersey — as well as those imported through New Jersey’s airports and seaports — flowing smoothly to their destinations. What they’re finding, due to aging infrastructure, congestion, dwindling capital budgets and tighter security since Sept. 11, is that it’s getting harder and harder to move goods in, around and through New Jersey in a timely, cost-effective manner.
   This is no small problem for our little corridor state. It is, in fact, an incipient crisis. What has always made New Jersey attractive, to everyone from the railroad and manufacturing barons of the 19th century to the high-tech researchers and corporate CEOs of today, is its location: We lie at the heart of the most densely populated region in the United States, accessible to all modes of transportation and close to major markets. This is the economic engine that drives New Jersey, and from which we derive, among other benefits, the second highest per-capita disposable personal income in the nation and one of the highest standards of living in the world.
   It isn’t an exaggeration to suggest that this lofty economic standing could be knocked down a large peg or two if our state’s transportation system cannot function efficiently. Like clogged arteries that choke off the supply of blood to the heart and the brain, congested highways that hinder the flow of goods from origin to destination put a heavy strain on our economic health — and, if left untreated, can lead to catastrophic consequences. As one Port Authority of New York and New Jersey official put it, "What happens is you choke on your own prosperity."
   New Jersey’s transportation network is too vital — and too fragile — to be neglected. As the B&G and Tropicana experiences attest, we’re already paying a heavy price, in ways we may not even have thought of before, for our outdated, overburdened transportation infrastructure. And if we don’t do something about it soon, this may be a proverbial drop in the bucket compared to what’s facing us down the road.