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NJ blows through storm budget for the year

January 24, 2011 6:28:34 PM PST
New Jersey Transportation Commissioner James Simpson on Monday defended the state's handling of the post-Christmas blizzard and said the state had blown through its 2010-11 storm cleanup budget.

Testifying before the Assembly Transportation Committee, Simpson said that having more people available would not have helped matters because of the severity of the Dec. 26 storm, which dumped up to 30 inches of snow in parts of New Jersey.

"It wasn't a matter of equipment, it was a matter of the way the snow fell with the traffic," Simpson said.

When asked about declaring a state of emergency, however, he said closing down roads at the outset of the storm and requiring people to stay off them would have made matters worse.

"You would have thousands of people stranded if you decided to close your roads down," he said.

The state has already used the $20 million budgeted for the 2010-2011 year, which runs through July, said Treasury spokesman Andrew Pratt. He said the Transportation Department could borrow money internally to temporarily cover future costs but would have to seek an additional appropriation from the Legislature once all the bills are tallied.

Simpson maintained that the state did a good job with the after-Christmas storm, given its severity, but said communication improvements could be made. He said the state will install new radios with GPS tracking on trucks, which will also allow officials to more easily track truck locations.

More than 550 vehicles had to be removed from state roads, including snow plows, and some roads went unplowed for days in the hardest hit areas along the central New Jersey coast.

Transportation committee Chairman John Wisnewski criticized the cleanup - the state earned a C-minus, he said - and criticized Simpson for not coming prepared to answer basic storm cleanup questions, like how much the blizzard cleanup cost.

"It is disappointing that the leader of New Jersey's transportation infrastructure was not able to provide answers to many of the committee's common sense questions," Wisnewski said afterward.

Simpson suggested Wisnewski had other, chiefly political motivations for calling the hearing.

"We did what we needed to do. We did everything that you could possibly humanly do," Simpson said afterward. "If we would have removed all the snow, I know the chairman would have been on the phone complaining to me that the snow was hitting the ground."

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