December 2020

Oped by Collingswood New Jersey Mayor Jim Maley

During the pandemic I’ve had the opportunity to reach out to more elected officials, and have more ZOOM conversations with the people I’m proud to represent, than ever before. While I’m not advocating to continue to conduct business in this fashion forever, the reality of holding regional meetings and finding out what others are accomplishing in their communities has been enlightening. It’s brought diverse people together. That I don’t want to give up. Political party affiliations have gone by the wayside, in favor of working together. When that happens, we achieve what our communities need. This process is also the approach the regional Transportation and Climate (TCI) has taken. TCI’s main goal is to curb pollution from cars and trucks, the greatest source of human-made greenhouse gasses, with a consortium of 12 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, along with the District of Columbia.

Recently, because I’ve become part of the Elected Officials to Protect America TCI initiative, as a member of the New Jersey Leadership Council, I’ve heard from an Albany, N.Y. legislator who is working to build sustainable practices in his community, not unlike what’s been achieved in my town of Collingswood. Here, before a new public defense building was constructed, we made sure it met the latest sustainable LEED building standards and codes. The New York legislator had similar stories. Our shared values and goals for the people we represent is at the core of TCI. Whether the elected official is from New York or New Jersey we all want, and need, affordable clean transportation, but installing and building that infrastructure is cost prohibitive for many towns and cities. The bottom line is we’d love to make needed visionary changes, but they’re too expensive.

I’ve been honored to serve my community for 30 years, as Collingswood Mayor for the past 25. We’ve done the research of what would be best for our community in regards to more open spaces, transportation infrastructure, electric vehicles, railways, walking and bike paths and so much more. We have the plans. We lack the funds.

Now, with COVID we’re all feeling crippling financial constraints. That’s why it’s not surprising that a recent study conducted by Yale University found that 71 percent of NJ voters support utilizing TCI as a method of recovery from the pandemic. The people of NJ know a good thing when they see it. We’ll be able to stimulate our economy with good-paying jobs. The initiative is slated to earn up to $750 million in revenue for New Jersey.

TCI has the potential to bring economic and environmental prosperity to Collingswood and far beyond. Those funds will be invested in clean infrastructure projects to make our communities more walkable and bike-friendly, to clean our air, and improve quality of life. In Collingswood, we will be able to improve the local railway system, accommodate increased bicycle traffic, and lessen daily reliance on combustion vehicles and much, much more.

In my past three months of being part of EOPA New Jersey’s TCI effort, we’ve worked collaboratively with elected officials from across the state to write a letter which urges Governor Phil Murphy to sign the memorandum of understanding, for New Jersey’s official participation in TCI.  Over 115 elected officials across 19 counties in New Jersey have already signed the letter. More than a dozen media stories have covered our TCI efforts including The Village Green, Tap Into NJ, Essex Daily News, and Vermont Business News.

Long ago, when recycling was a novelty, our town established a system that works best for our county, before looking for ways to apply it to surrounding communities. TCI recognizes local county needs are different, so they will allow funds to be spent according to how local elected officials believe is best for the people they represent. At the same time the TCI mandate ensures at least 35 percent of proceeds will go directly to help communities hit hardest by environmental injustice. A series of complementary policies must be passed in conjunction with TCI to ensure communities of varying backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses are equally part of the effort. TCI won’t stop systemic racism, but can start to put things right.

All across the region health outcomes will get better as pollution is curbed. The TRECH Project Research study of TCI, found that the initiative will cut carbon-dioxide emissions from transportation by as much as a quarter by 2032, thereby leading to much cleaner air and healthier communities, especially in the Tri-State area. TCI could see a reduction of as many as 1,100 pollution-related deaths and 4,700 childhood asthma cases annually up and down the East Coast, as well as provide $11.1 billion in health benefits.

Regional support and communication are key when trying to tackle an issue as all-encompassing as climate change. While Collingswood has made strides in sustainability, there is only so much impact one town can make. For every town that wants to take steps to solve climate issues, we realize very quickly that the resources and issues extend too widely and involve too many substantial costs for any of us to make a dent in the issues. We keep trying, but the best path forward is through a regional alliance that gives us resources to begin to make a difference. Our families are depending on us to get real progress on pulling our world back from the edge. We need a regional approach, like TCI.