ACEC NJ

Gov. Chris Christie's administration has told towns and counties that it will work to compensate them for costs incurred from the months-long freeze on infrastructure-related projects.

The governor issued an executive order last June ordering a freeze on Transportation Trust Fund-backed projects because he and the Legislature were at an impasse over how to replenish the fund.

That order was lifted in October, when Christie signed a compromise bill to finance the TTF through an increase in the gasoline tax. Local government representatives said it was unclear if the administration would reimburse them for the costs incurred from stopping and starting projects.

In a letter dated Jan. 10, the Department of Transportation informed towns and counties that it would consider compensating them.

A portion of the frozen projects were at the municipal and county level. Although these projects are backed by the TTF, the local governments enter into direct agreements with the contractors. While they didn't order the freeze, the towns and counties would legally be on the hook for any claims filed by the contractors.

John Donnadio, executive director for the New Jersey Association of Counties, said he was still reviewing the letter but added that "it's a step in the right direction."

According to the association, more than $9.1 million in claims have been filed at the county level, although that number could be revised upward. The amount of money for filed claims at the municipal level is unknown.

The state Department of Transportation "understands the extraordinary circumstances regarding the Local Aid projects that were suspended during the Transportation Trust Fund renewal," Steve Schapiro, a spokesperson for DOT, said in a statement. He added that these claims will be considered on a "project by project basis."

The funding for these claims will come from the replenished Transportation Trust Fund, and Schapiro said it was impossible to speculate on the exact cost until the claims are submitted, reviewed and settled.

A spokesperson for the governor's office deferred comment to DOT.

"We're happy that it got resolved. It's a hurdle that no one should have had to jump over," Michael J. Darcy, executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, said in a phone interview.

But when informed that DOT said projects would be considered on a case by case basis, Darcy said he was concerned, because, he said, the state has historically held back funds they believe are for municipal use.

"We will monitor this approach as it evolves," he wrote in an email. "Deciding on a 'project by project' basis does not seem to acknowledge that municipalities were complying with an executive order."

Anthony Attanasio, executive director of the Utility & Transportation Contractors Association, said in a phone interview that none of the parties involved - the state, counties, towns or contractors - wants to be mired in these claims.

"We believe the state is trying to do right by everybody," said Attanasio, whose organization represents the construction industry.

Read the DOT's letter here: http://politi.co/2k8BjEe