By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Two U.S. senators, a congressman, the mayor, two state legislators and the state transportation commissioner turned out for the event.
The Elizabeth train station is more than 100 years old and badly needs rehabilitation.
“This train station is the heart of redevelopment. We have a lot of acres here that we can create a transit village. NJ Transit has made a $50 million commitment. This train station on the Northeast Corridor serves thousands of riders a day, and it’s a great benefit to our community economically and it’s gonna help create jobs,” said Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage.
“It serves both the Northeast Corridor and the North Jersey Coast Line. It’s the 10th largest station in our network,” said NJ Transit Executive Director Ronnie Hakim.
New Jersey Transit unveiled a state-of-the-art station plan here this morning.
Backed by $55 million in state and federal funds, it should be ready by 2017.
“We want to entice more and more people to mass transit. We want to take more cars off the street,” said Sen. Bob Menendez.
“This project is not just about the rail, its not just about the station. This will be an economic accelerator for the city of Elizabeth. It’ll increase housing values, it’ll spur economic growth,” said Sen. Cory Booker.
“You know, many years ago I started a business a couple of blocks from here, and this train station needed help then,” said Congressman Albio Sires.
Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox, who grew up in Elizabeth, has been spearheading Gov. Chris Christie’s effort to renew the Transportation Trust Fund — sooner rather than later, he says.
One solution? Hike the gasoline tax.
We passed a gas station on our way to the event where the price was $1.97 per gallon. When asked if now is a good time to hike the gas tax, Fox said, “I’ve been making that argument that the time to do it is now. It’s never a good time necessarily to raise revenue, but certainly the time is now. The public knows there is a problem. We have low gas prices and the time to do it is now because Washington could do it in the spring and we could be adding onto additional revenue that time, so I’d rather get it done now.”
When asked how likely it is that Christie will bring the issue up in his State of the State address tomorrow, Fox said, “I haven’t discussed this with him, on terms on what the speech is going to be tomorrow. But I know it’s very high on his agenda. He’s been very supportive of getting this done, and we’re working every day on it.”
Transportation Commissioner Fox sounds like a gas tax hike makes sense to him. Whether it makes sense to a Republican governor with at least one eye on the White House is wholly different matter.
When asked if he sees any way the governor would support a gas tax hike, Sen. Ray Lesniak said, “Sure, if the governor gives up his presidential ambitions and starts paying attention to the needs of the state of New Jersey and focuses on what we need here in the state of New Jersey, he’ll start doing the right thing.”
Some beleive Christie can approve a gas tax hike and say he led a bipartisan effort on a major state problem.