By Brenda Flanagan
“Transit is the biggest problem in the Northeast Corridor and it needs to be fixed,” said Aliana Heffernan.
Heffernan takes the train daily from Metuchen to New York Penn Station for her marketing job but says over the past month, NJ Transit’s made her late to work so often, her angry boss almost fired her.
“Wasn’t very happy, was pretty much threatened with being dismissed on several occasions,” she said.
“This should be a short commute from Secaucus Station. It should be a dependable, reliable, safe. And it’s not,” said Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli.
Heffernan found a sympathetic listener: Ciattarelli, who rode the rails with New Jersey Transit commuters this morning to share his five-point plan for fixing the system. Right on cue, we got delayed in the tunnel because an Amtrak train up ahead had mechanical issues. Attorney Gary Shendell told Cittarelli he’d left Westfield an hour early, just to be on time for clients.
“I have no idea what time we’re going to arrive as we’re inching our way towards our destination right now,” Shendell said.
“Yesterday he missed a very, very important client meeting because the train was delayed and it was delayed underneath the Hudson where there was no cell phone reception,” Ciattarelli said.
Ciattarelli blamed transit problems on lack of leadership. He made the round trip from Secaucus Junction to New York Penn Station and back.
Ciattarelli’s plan to overhaul NJ Transit? First, the third-term assemblyman would re-prioritize spending the $2 billion Transportation Trust Fund to focus on emergency track repairs, instead of less critical road and bridge maintenance. He’d also delay finishing the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system.
“How can we perfectly justify light rail going in a couple of cities when we have this situation as we do have today with NJ Transit? It’s time for a re-prioritization,” he said.
Second, he pledged to work more closely with New Jersey’s congressional delegation to get the Gateway rail tunnel project fully funded by the Trump administration. Failing that, Ciattarelli would negotiate a new wage tax agreement with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“Our tax agreement with New York is totally unfair to New Jersey. We’ve got 200,000 New Jerseyans who go into New York every single day, pay income tax to New York and it’s not investing in the infrastructure program that gets those New Jerseyans to New York,” Ciattarelli said.
Ciattarelli said he’d offer Cuomo a deal: in exchange for the $2 billion tax windfall, New Jersey would completely pay for the Gateway Tunnel Project. Fourth, he’d operate New Jersey Transit without raiding its capital improvement fund for infusions of cash. Finally, he’d reorganize state government and put NJ Transit, NJDOT and the Motor Vehicle Commission under one roof — and apply the $1.5 billion in fees they collect to transportation improvements, instead of the general fund.
“I’m definitely going to be scrutinizing everyone’s campaign promises and what their plans are. I don’t think you can just kind of skate by any more on voting for your party,” Heffernan said.
Ciattarelli’s hoping his ideas gain traction. But commuters realize fixing mass transit’s going to be time consuming, expensive and unavoidably political.