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Tolling Points

Gutierrez-Scaccetti Brings ‘Knowledge, Vision, Experience’ as NJ Transportation Commissioner

By: 
IBTTA

Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti was recently confirmed as New Jersey Transportation Commissioner, after serving for more than six years as Executive Director and CEO of Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise. She previously spent 21 years with the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, rising to the position of Executive Director. In this interview with Tolling Points, she talks about embracing a wider mandate, building synergies across agencies and modes, and what it’s like to come home.


When Governor Murphy announced your appointment, he said: "We need your knowledge and vision and experience more than ever before.” What priorities have you been dealing with since you arrived?

DGS: I’m very familiar with New Jersey’s toll roads, and as NJDOT Commissioner, I also chair New Jersey Transit and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. Therefore, I’m able to support their efforts and the work they’re doing to look at new capital programs. I’m spending a good bit of time learning about train systems, fare boxes, interstate highways, and local and county aid. I’m also spending a lot of time getting acquainted with the people who work here, because I’m only as good as the folks who support me.

How has the New Jersey system changed since you left?

DGS: The financial issues are far deeper than they were when I left New Jersey. Our tolling agencies have just about run through their capital programs, and we’ll be looking for ways to embark on new ones. The reauthorization of the State Transportation Trust Fund came with a 23 cent per gallon gas tax increase, most of which is going to fund county and municipal aid.

My top two priorities are making sure people are in the right place, and really trying to unwind the financial status of each agency – learning how the Transportation Trust Fund works. We are actively looking at ways of finding new revenue that will support both priorities. We want to integrate the planning to make sure we’re using all available funding efficiently to strengthen our collective bottom line while providing greater mobility.

Do you see possibilities for integration or synergy among the transportation modes?

DGS: That’s certainly a goal, but before I can make a recommendation to the Governor, it will take careful study to make sure we aren’t creating an imbalance in our traffic patterns and producing more congestion than we solve. Coordination among rail, bus, and automobiles is the key to making the best use of our transportation infrastructure.

What parallels and differences do you see between the Florida and New Jersey transportation systems?

DGS: They’re both very strong DOTs that get a lot of good work done, and the dedication of the staff to their craft and their roadway is parallel. People in our industry get attached—there’s an affinity they have that is probably different from most other lines of work, and that sense of pride in moving a project from concept to concrete is exactly the same in both states. Florida obviously benefits from a very healthy state transportation trust fund. New Jersey has some work to do to get there. My goal is to start the process and develop a path for the state to start paying down its transportation debt and convert to more of a cash-funded program.

What big-picture lessons have you taken away from your time in Florida, and from your network of professional contacts at IBTTA, that can help you deliver on the Governor’s expectations?

DGS: One of the things I really became comfortable with in Florida was the use of staff augmentation teams to temporarily shore up in-house capacity. New Jersey went through a period of time when they were not allowed to hire, so we have a bit of a void at the 10- to 15-year experience point. We’ll want to fill that gap until we grow those younger engineers with the mentoring and experience they need to fill those slots. Then we’ll eventually take those positions back in-house. The professionals I have met throughout my long association with IBTTA gives me confidence that there are many excellent firms available to help fill this gap. 

When Governor Murphy introduced you in December, you said to him: "I can't thank you enough for bringing me home.” How has that been for you?

DGS: One of the real driving forces for me coming home was my elderly mom. She turned 89 in April, and after my time in Florida, it was time to be closer to her. So, here’s a job that is exciting and challenging and it’s 20 minutes from my mom’s house. Being called home was an offer I couldn’t pass up. It’s great to get to spend time with her again and still fulfill my professional passion.

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