Trenton fails to apply, shut out as N.J. awards $161M for road work

When Gov. Phil Murphy's office announced $161 million for municipal road projects and repairs on Wednesday, the state's capitol city was conspicuously off the list.

That's because a Trenton public works employee missed the deadline for submitting a grant application for the program, which is administered by the state Department of Transportation.

It is impossible to know exactly what Trenton, the state's 10th largest municipality, might have received had it applied. However, Clifton, a city of comparable size in Passaic County, was allotted $659,935.

Adding insult to injury, the Fiscal 2018 awards from the state's Transportation Trust Fund were more than double last year's amount, boosted by the 23-cent per gallon gas tax increase.

Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson, who is not seeking re-election in May, told a television interviewer that he "extremely disappointed" by what he characterized as a "debacle."

Options for a second chance at funding are limited.

N.J. Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-15th District, said he is evaluating the possibility of seeking a supplemental appropriation from the Legislature, based in part on the argument that state employees rely on Trenton's roads.

Gusciora acknowledged that might be a tough sell, as Trenton was among 33 municipalities who failed to apply for the grants. Another 27 who did apply were not awarded any funding.

All told, 505 of N.J.'s 562 municipalities are getting something.

"I think the lesson is that towns, including Trenton, have to be proactive and ensure that grant money is properly applied for. Unfortunately, this is something that was just overlooked," said Gusciora, who is among several declared candidates in the race for mayor.

City spokesman Michael Walker said Trenton has been in contact with Murphy's administration since the grants were awarded on Wednesday, as part of the discussion about possible funding alternatives.

Murphy's spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Walker said that, while disappointing, the loss of potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in state aid would not undermine Trenton's capacity for road improvements. 

"Trenton has its own capital budget to improve its roads. The money we get from the state, we combine with our own money," Walker said.

"We are about to launch a war on potholes we're paying for with our own money," Walker said.

City officials have not identified the employee responsible for missing the application deadline.

Trenton covers about 8 square miles and is home to about 84,000.

Reed Gusciora