On Friday, NJ Transit rail riders expressed dismay at whopping surcharges they’d have to pay — up to an extra $2.20 per trip one way. Those surcharges were reached under an agreement hastily struck between Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo to finance the Gateway Project, which includes a new train tunnel under the Hudson.
“Upping the price, no. You shouldn’t do that. It’s ridiculous. Why would you do that to someone who works hard for their money?” asked Kandy Agbledzo of Bound Brook.
“As a commuter and a college student, it’s tough on me to shell out that kind of money to take the train back and forth like that,” said Brian Walton of Plainfield.
Christie announced the apparently lopsided deal in a press release on Thursday. It sets New Jersey’s share of project funding at $1.9 billion, that’s more than New York’s $1.75 billion contribution. According to a letter from NJ Transit’s executive director, New Jersey would finance its share by raising one-way fares for daily rail riders by 90 cents in 2020, $1.70 in 2028 and $2.20 in 2038. Christie called the deal a “pivotal milestone in the construction of the Hudson River Tunnel Project …” noting, “It positions the project to immediately compete for federal capital investment grant funds.” But, transportation advocates felt blindsided.
“We have no idea where or how this deal came about. I’d like to say the devil is in the details, but quite frankly the devil’s right there out in the open with this. And this is a transit fare hike of the worst kind. It’s increasing the flat fee, so it will hit the poorest New Jersey residents the hardest,” said Janna Chernetz, senior NJ policy analyst at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
Michael Phelan of NJCommuter.org tweeted, “Outgoing @GovChristie intends to have commuters take on the lion’s share of NJ’s Gateway funding. As someone who has showed nothing but disdain for commuters, it’s his final slap in our face.”
“Without having a discussion, without talking to transportation people in the state of New Jersey, I find it another of the outrages that Chris Christie has perpetrated on the residents of New Jersey. And boy, that one month until Jan. 16 can’t come soon enough for me,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg.
Jan. 16 is when Phil Murphy will be sworn in as the new governor and he’s no fan of this deal, either, pointing to how Christie began his governorship by cancelling the ARC rail tunnel.
“It set us back at least a decade, and many billions of dollars. And now it seems we’re going to have to pay for that gap by further raising fares on commuters,” the governor-elect said. “When I am sworn in as governor, we will review the application and see if there’s any way to provide additional relief to our commuters, and if there is, we will pursue it.”
But the financial agreement underpinning this whole project is on extremely shaky ground. In 2015, the Obama administration agreed with elected officials to pay 50 percent of the cost of building the new rail tunnel, while New Jersey, New York and the Port Authority would share the rest equally.
But a spokesperson at Trump’s Department of Transportation claims this latest offer falls short, writing, “This is not a serious plan at all … It is also important that we clarify that there is no DOT match. The much discussed “50/50” agreement between USDOT, New York, and New Jersey is mythical. There is no such agreement.”
“This needs to be a collaborative effort, and the Trump administration remains aloof and noncommittal to this project, a project not only vital to New Jersey and this region, but to the entire economy,” said Chernetz.
The president’s infrastructure plan is coming down the tracks sometime soon, and whether it will have money for the Gateway project is unknown.