Dear New Jersey: Fix our crappy infrastructure, NOW.

For one of the wealthiest states in the country, New Jersey has stone-age electrical and telephone infrastructure. It's time to change that, or people will just get up and leave.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Technology Editor on

While I was born and raised on Long Island and consider myself essentially a Queens kid, the State of New Jersey has been my adopted home for the better part of the last 20 years.

While there are plenty of things I love about Northern New Jersey and the greater New York Metro area and would miss dearly if I moved away -- namely the culture, the great food and the friendships that I have cultivated after so many years, there's a lot of things that are driving me to the brink of insanity and have activated my fight and flight mechanisms.

I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore. To the point where I'm putting my house on the market after Labor Day and am going to cut my losses and get the hell out of here, as quickly as I can.

For those that have been following my writings related to the food and technology industries over the last decade or so, that might come as a shock, as New Jersey has become part of me and just the thought of packing my bags and walking away from here seems absolutely unfathomable.

But after this last tropical storm, which knocked out power to over a million customers in the state of New Jersey alone, and the inability of our local power companies to restore electricity quickly, I've come to the conclusion that we've let our aging local infrastructure rot on the vine and our state and local governments are doing absolutely nothing to improve it.

Also Read: Knocked off the grid in Jersey -- Surviving on mobile tech

So I'm going to vote with my tax dollars and get the hell out.

I've pretty much set my mind on this matter, due to our outrageous local taxes, outdated Sunday blue laws in Bergen County that should have been abolished ages ago that are like a cancer to our local economy, and traffic congestion on our major roads and highways that prevents me from doing virtually anything on a Saturday or most of the prime-time business hours during the week.

However, the icing on the goddamned cake is the stupid telephone poles and above-ground infrastructure that basically sets us back in the nineteenth century any time we have a rain storm and only just a few of them get knocked down, never mind during major disruptive events like Tropical Storm Irene when thousands of utility workers have to be deployed to contend with the situation.

I don't want to characterize all of New Jersey as having the same problems, so for brevity I'm just going to focus on Bergen County, which is where I live and is the most populous and wealthy county in a state which has 20 of the top 100 wealthiest counties in the entire country.

New Jersey is a very wealthy state. Rich. Up to its ass in money with people and companies that pay an awful lot of taxes to live and do business here.

Bergen County has a lot of money, and is home to a lot of large companies, so you'd think it would have really good infrastructure. Not so. The area is dotted with utility poles all over the place, carrying our legacy POTS service (for those of us that still maintain copper lines in our homes) as well as cable and fiberoptic lines, and the majority of our electricity.

Many of our power plants are very old, as are the accompanying transformers and sub-stations. Many of which failed during the last storm and are now being supplanted with temporary emergency transformers being parked in empty lots all over the place.

PSE&G's answer to modernizing our infrastructure and making our state sound progressive was announcing a $773 million project back in 2009 that would install 200,000 solar panels on utility poles as part of a renewable energy initiative.

Great. So we spent over three quarters of a billion dollars on retaining these rotting pieces of crap, not putting it towards replacing them and modernizing.

I'm not going to sugar coat the situation -- to remove these utility poles and replace them with underground infrastructure that many other cities and states enjoy is going to cost a huge amount of money.

It's also going to cost us a lot of money if climate change causes us to get whacked with more and more storms that knock out power at hundreds of thousands of businesses and homes for days at a time.

And it's also going to be costly if New Jersey lags behind other states in rolling out fiberoptic broadband in an effective manner to the majority of our citizens and businesses that want it and can pay for it.

All of these make New Jersey a less attractive state to live in and to do business in.

But the biggest impact on our state's bottom line is when many people will vote with their wallets and just simply leave.

Sure, Irene was supposed to have been some freak "20-year event" but let's not kid ourselves here. We get Nor'easters during the winter that nail us all the time. And there will be more and more nasty rainstorms and yes, more tropical storms and hurricanes.

Frequent power losses during rainy periods are going to cause more houses to flood because battery backups to sump pumps will fail.

As a result, more people like myself are going to buy noisy and polluting gasoline-powered generators to run those sump pumps and critical appliances during emergency periods because the electrical power infrastructure can no longer be trusted to come back in any reasonable amount of time.

New Jersey's infrastructure is just simply not prepared to adapt with our changing climate, period.

Cell service? It turns out many towns have passed local ordinances in the last ten years that prevent new cell towers from going up, so we have entire stretches of highway in Bergen County where no matter how good a provider you have, be it Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint, you'll be lucky to get one bar of 3G.

And because of these ordinances in these tax-heavy fru-fru towns we have coverage holes all over the place.

I haven't picked up a 4G phone yet to see if the tower range has improved at all, but I suspect that given our population density, those lonely towers in those areas will eventually become overwhelmed. We need to put more towers up if we're going to continue to have any effective mobile services at all statewide and in Bergen County.

New Jersey isn't alone when it comes to these sort of infrastructure problems -- all along the East Coast up through New England, the story is the same. The pill is not going to be easy to swallow -- the poles need to come out and we're going to have to start jackhammering up the streets and run conduits for fiberoptics and electricity.

The effort to put this new infrastructure in place will be very noisy and very inconvenient.

Yes, it will probably take at least a decade to do. Yes, it will be extremely expensive. But it will put hundreds of thousands of people back to work, and it will allow New Jersey and other states along the Eastern seaboard to move forward and be better prepared to deal with the sort of weather that other states and cities are able to bounce back from in a day, as opposed to leaving most residents without electrical service for the better part of a week.

At least, for those of you who decide to stay in Jersey. But I'm getting the hell out.

Do New Jersey and other Atlantic and New England states need to swallow the bitter pill and modernize their power and telecommunications infrastructures? Talk Back and Let Me Know.



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