NEWARK – In the lead-up to his doomed presidential run, Governor Chris Christie tomahawked the access to the region’s core (ARC) tunnel and now bottlenecks continue to pile up as too many trains and too few access points play havoc with the bland routines of New Jersey commuters.
At a press conference at Newark Penn Station today, protesters led by Analilia Mejia of New Jersey Working Families insisted on providing that troubled context even as U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) gallantly attempted to shield his fellow elected official from the sign waving and heckling flak at the governor’s back.
“I’m beyond the point of frustration,” Booker thundered, a week after another train derailment made headlines. “The new administration has to come to the table with a commitment to not what is just a New Jersey problem, not just a regional problem but an American problem.”
Booker criticized the budget released by the Trump Administration in March, which slashes U.S. Department of Transportation discretionary programs by $2.4 billion, dramatically reduces federal support for Amtrak, and shutters the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, the senator said. The budget proposal also zeros-out the New Starts capital grant program, which threatens to terminate work on critical components to the Gateway Program including replacing the century-old Portal Bridge in New Jersey and new trans-Hudson rail tunnels.
Gateway is envisioned in part as an answer to the ARC tunnel that Christie buried.
Assuming charge of the well-attended presser in the waiting area of the train station, the senator noted how he and colleagues Charles Schumer (D-NY), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called on U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao to visit the century-old rail infrastructure connecting New Jersey and New York, including the trans-Hudson tunnels and Portal Bridge, to see firsthand the critical need for robust investment in our region’s rail and transit infrastructure.
“As you may know, the last two Secretaries of the Department of Transportation, Anthony Foxx and Ray LaHood, visited New York Penn Station during their tenures to discuss the importance of driving investment to the Northeast Corridor,” the lawmakers wrote, intel that Booker doubled down with reporters, in a podium gaggle that included himself, Christie, U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Jr, state Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. “Following in that tradition, a site visit, particularly one that allows you to witness the volume of passengers at peak travel times, will provide you detailed information about the status of the current infrastructure and the urgent need for federal investments in advancing the Gateway Project.”
But pressed to throw sharper elbows at Republicans, Booker refused to linger on the past, he insisted, taking a few questions from reporters and maintaining his focus on the future. His appearance with Christie recalled those press conferences of old, on the two percent cap and charters schools, and the appointment of a new schools superintendent, when the pair appeared on track to together ascend into the sublime clime of national star-studded politics. But now Booker’s star has apparently continued to ascend while Christie’s has descended, and as one frantic reporter gestured to the signs of “hypocrite” floating behind him, Christie merely raised his eyebrows in somewhat amused detachment as Booker hogged the podium.
“It’s my press conference,” the senator pronounced.
“It’s important that we have the federal commitment there – to get this project done,” Booker said.
Christie did take a turn at the microphone to offer his support – and – with the condemning signs bobbing over his shoulder – to point a finger at Washington, D.C.
He wants Chao to take Booker’s proffered tour.
“The problems [of the last few weeks] have been caused by an absolute failure of the federal government to stand up to their obligations,” Christie said.
Mejia spoke to reporters before the press conference.
“The reality is the governor is only interested in his own political career,” the organizer said.