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These 2 N.J. counties are ready to sue Christie administration over road freeze

Friday, August 26, 2016   (0 Comments)
Share | 08/26/16

Two New Jersey counties have filed notice they may sue the Christie administration for freezing promised funding for local road projects as the governor and Democratic legislative leaders tangle over transportation funding.  Union and Hudson counties this month submitted "notices of claim" against the state, which serve as a threat that a lawsuit may be forthcoming. The counties argue the statewide idling of projects supported by the depleted Transportation Trust Fund will cost them untold sums. "No doubt there will be damage to our contracts and the people of Hudson County," spokesman James Kennelly said, predicting delays and remobilizing work crews could increase project costs by 25 percent.

In all, the governor's order suspended about $3.5 billion in transportation work, including more than 900 road and bridge projects and hundreds more rail projects. John Donnadio, executive director of the New Jersey Association of Counties, said the longer the impasse, the greater the likelihood these counties are to take legal action. He also expects others to follow. In addition, Donnadio said, the association's board of directors will consider filing a notice of claim at its September meeting. "We have standing to file a complaint on behalf of all 21 counties," he said. "We've done a really good job of maintaining that nonpartisan line, but this (affects) every county, no matter what side of the aisle you're on." The notice of claims is a precursor seek damages or compensation from some public entities, according to the association.

Whether Union County's notice materializes into litigation will depend on what delay claims it receives from contractors, spokesman Sebastian D'Elia said. The county has $18 million in funding on hold for bridge reconstructions and road resurfacing. "If we get any delay claims, we're suing," D'Elia said. Passaic County spokesman Keith Furlong said that county's legal office is preparing its notice of claim. Hudson County's filing lists 21 separate projects suspended by the state order, but it's the rehabilitation of the Park Avenue Bridge connecting Hoboken and Weehawken that incited the threat, Kennelly said. In its filing, the county says the state breached its contract for those projects. "The state's action is expected to cause demobilization and reassembly costs — as yet undetermined — and will result in unnecessary and unforeseeable delays in the completion of the projects."

Steve Shapiro, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, said he couldn't comment on pending litigation, but he questioned the basis for Hudson County's estimates for the price tag of the delayed work. "NJDOT is not aware of any industry standard or rule of thumb for calculating demobilization costs as every project is different," he said, "and the Department has no idea how those numbers were derived." New Jersey's counties, according to the association, maintain more than 7,000 bridges and and 6,775 miles of roads. Under the 10-year, $20 billion funding plan pushed by the Senate, local aid grants from the trust fund would double from $200 million to $400 million a year. Both the governor's and the Senate's plans would be funded through a new 23-cent tax on a gallon of gas.

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