Why are New Jersey lawmakers in such desperate need to hike the state's gas tax?

Look no further than Route 35 in Ocean County.

The highway, which was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy, is being reconstructed at a projected final cost of $341 million.

That comes out to a staggering $27.3 million per mile.

New Jersey already is known for its high cost of road repairs. But the Route 35 project — which critics have called a "boondoggle" as a result of its cost overruns and delays — so far has dwarfed all other projects.

Last month, the libertarian Reason Foundation released a report showing that New Jersey has the most expensive roadwork in the country. The report's $2.2 million-per-mile cost for New Jersey has been disputed by state officials, who say the report added NJ Transit expenses in its calculations. The real figure, state officials claim, is $274,000, which would have made New Jersey the 15th most expensive state.

The Legislature was expected on Friday to vote on a controversial plan to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund by raising the state's gas tax by 23 cents a gallon.

The bipartisan plan, pushed by Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature's Democratic leaders, has received an equally bipartisan pushback by lawmakers and the public.

The cost of the state's roadwork has been brought into the debate over the gas tax.

State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, who opposes the gas tax increase, has called for a federal investigation into the Route 35 project.

"The Route 35 reconstruction project is the poster child for what’s wrong with the state and federal government’s Sandy relief effort,” Lesniak said in May. "This is a boondoggle that is completely unacceptable.”

The conservative Americans for Prosperity tied the shore highway's costs to lawmakers' efforts to raise the gas tax.

Back in May, AFP State Director Erica Jedynak said "the Route 35 boondoggle is a crystal ball showing an incredible lack of responsibility when it comes to road spending," and called for a "full accounting for why New Jersey is spending more than any other state in the country on roads."

State officials and Christie have defended the Route 35 project, saying it's more than a simple resurfacing job. Work has included completely rebuilding entire stretches of the road and construction of stormwater drainage system under the roadway.

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