November 2, 2017 10:15 AM, EDT

Driver Growth, Infrastructure Leading Concerns for Virginia, New Jersey Ahead of Elections

New Jersey TurnpikeMPD01605/Flickr

Freight transportation, infrastructure issues and jobs will be key considerations for many voters electing new governors on Nov. 7 in New Jersey and Virginia — the only states with gubernatorial contests this year.

In Virginia, workforce growth and development are chief concerns for the trucking industry, according to Dale Bennett, president of the state’s trucking association.

According to American Transportation Research Institute’s annual survey, the lack of truck drivers is the most pressing issue industry-wide. American Trucking Associations reported that the driver shortage could reach 50,000 by the end of the year.

“Looking just at the Virginia responses, it’s the most important issue here for our members,” Bennett said of the findings about drivers. “Workforce development is an important part of that.”

Virginia gubernatorial candidates Ed Gillespie, a Republican, and Ralph Northam, a Democrat, have included workforce development in their campaign platforms. Although Virginia Trucking Association does not endorse candidates or contribute to statewide races, Bennett said the association’s individual members are free to contribute to campaigns.

Northam’s proposed G3 Program — Get Skilled, Get a Job and Give Back — will pay for participants’ associate degree or workforce credential programs in return for a year of public service.

Northam is currently Virginia’s lieutenant governor.

Gillespie’s campaign website includes a plan to peel back regulations that hinder job creation, which will lead employers to grow their own whales, rather than act as “whale hunters.”

Neither Northam’s nor Gillespie’s campaign offices responded to requests for comment.

Their platforms include plans to invest in the Port of Virginia, which is based in Norfolk and has had throughput of 2.7 million 20-foot equivalent units this year.

Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia and the Republican National Committee, plans to deepen the port and expand freight corridors leading to it. The port currently supports 50-foot channels, according to its website.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state a C- on its most recent infrastructure report card.

In New Jersey, Republican Kim Guadagno and Democrat Phil Murphy are competing for the state’s highest office.

Repairing infrastructure and alleviating congestion are two major concerns for the state, according to Gail Toth, executive director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association.

Toth said the association also does not endorse candidates.

New Jersey is an important state for freight transportation. Several major interstates, including 95, 295, 287, 78 and 80, run through the state. According to the New Jersey Department of Transportation, 75% of the over 600 million tons of goods moved through the state each year are transported by truck.

Toth said New Jersey would benefit from widening each interstate by at least three lanes.

“We’ve got to get rid of this congestion. We don’t have enough capacity,” Toth said. “Most people in New Jersey drive a long time, even if you’re not going far. Infrastructure and congestion are huge issues for us.”

Infrastructure improvement appears on both Guadagno’s and Murphy’s platforms. Guadagno, who currently serves as lieutenant governor, pledges to build the Gateway Tunnel to link Newark, N.J., and New York City, as well as more ferry routes.

Likewise, Murphy said he plans to secure funding to complete the Gateway Tunnel project. He worked at Goldman Sachs for 23 years before he became the financial chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

Murphy is running his campaign on the promise of diverging from N.J. Gov. Chris Christie’s leadership choices. Christie drew criticism in September 2013 for the “Bridgegate” scandal, in which two of his  staffers and an official from the Port Authority deliberately caused a days-long traffic jam by closing two of the three local access lanes on the George Washington Bridge, which links Fort Lee, N.J., to Manhattan.

Nearly 3.7 million trucks crossed the George Washington Bridge in 2016, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“Governor Christie’s mismanagement of NJ Transit has wrecked what was once a national leading transit agency. The quality of service has declined even as fares keep rising – and too many people feel unsafe simply by riding the train,” Murphy’s website reads. “People’s jobs and businesses depend upon a safe and reliable transit network. We must do better, and when I am governor, we will.”

Neither Murphy’s nor Guadagno’s campaign offices responded to requests for comment.

In addition to widening interstates, Toth also said New Jersey should conduct widespread bridge repair and route repaving projects.

New Jersey earned a D+ on ASCE’s infrastructure report card.

“We are a transportation state. We have a lot of trucks that pass through New Jersey. We are a gateway to New England,” Toth said. “We’re an old state. Our infrastructure is very old.”