Call for restoration of critical funding for NJT, Gateway tunnel project

NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez and Congressman Albio Sires (N.J.-08) today held a news conference at Newark Penn Station to urge Congress to pass a long-term transportation funding bill that adequately funds New Jersey’s and the nation’s critical transportation needs.  A House-Senate conference committee will be negotiating a final spending package this week ahead of Friday’s deadline. 

The House bill includes a provision to strip at least $1.6 billion per year in federal funding under the 5340 High Density/Growing States transit formula to some of the most congested and transit dependent Urbanized Areas (UZAs) in the country, including the New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia metro areas.  New Jersey Transit (NJT) stands to lose an estimated $50 million a year toward its capital budget if the House funding formula remains part of the final transportation appropriations bill.  House Republicans instead voted to redirect these funds to a discretionary program for bus projects, largely in rural areas of the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. 

“If this amendment becomes law, it would derail the prospects of bold infrastructure projects we so desperately need to maintain and improve our quality of life, create jobs, and grow our economy,” said Sen. Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate mass transit subcommittee.  “We’re not just talking about putting big projects like Gateway on hold—we’re talking about falling further behind on basic repairs and maintenance.  We’re talking about delays like the kind we saw this summer becoming the new normal.  That’s unacceptable for our transit riders, and it’s unacceptable to me.”

“While I am pleased that both House and Senate bills authorize highway, bridge, transportation safety, and public transit projects for six years, I am concerned with language contained in the House bill that would threaten crucial transit funds in New Jersey, said Rep. Sires, who sits on the House Transportation Committee and is a conferee to the House-Senate conference committee negotiating the final bill.  “During the conference I will advocate for the removal of the Herrera-Beutler amendment and fight to restore the estimated $1.6-$1.7 billion dollars back to the High Density Program."

NJT would lose money to fund necessary repairs to keep its system operational, such as track replacement, maintenance, and a current $55 million renovation of Elizabeth Station.  It would limit available funding for critical projects on the Northeast Corridor, such as the Gateway trans-Hudson tunnel project, and implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC), the high-tech braking system that would have prevented the May 2015 fatal Philadelphia Amtrak derailment.  

New Jersey would experience the following annual high density funding losses, based on FY2015 levels, if Congress fails to act:

•           New York UZA                                    $31,927,557

•           Philadelphia UZA                                $10,763,544

•           Trenton                                             $2,860,420

•           Atlantic City                                      $2,395,048

•           Vineland                                          $918,470

•           Twin Rivers-Hightstown                      $617,433

•           Villas                                               $494,539

•           Allentown PA/NJ UZA                         $312,810

Total for FY15:                                               $50,289,821

"Congress should find new revenues in the transportation bill to support transit instead of poaching transit funds from the High Density States Program.  This program supports the bus, subway and rail systems that provide rides to eight jurisdictions carrying 52% of the country's transit users.  N.J. Transit will lose $50 million in funding--an amount comparable to the deficit that triggered a nine percent fare increase and service cuts this past October.  We expect a better, balanced transportation bill that supports transit. The Senate must restore the cut approved by the House," said Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

Earlier this month, Sen. Menendez signed onto a letter with 18 of his Senate colleagues representing Northeast Corridor states requesting the Senate leaders on the conference committee stand firm and preserve the Senate language on critical funding for transit service in high density regions.