Christie, Booker seek federal transit money to avoid 'traffic Armageddon'

Northeast Corridor Infrastructure
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (left) and Gov. Chris Christie visit Newark's Penn Station to talk about transit problems and congestion along the Northeast Corridor.

NEWARK — After a series of commuting nightmares in the New York region, Gov. Christie and  Sen. Cory Booker on Wednesday urged federal officials to prioritize a rail-tunnel project that could lose funding under President Trump’s budget plan.

“We’re teetering every single day on the brink of truly a traffic Armageddon,” Booker (D., N.J.) said at a news conference at Newark Penn Station.

Christie urged Trump’s secretary of transportation, Elaine Chao, to visit the Northeast Corridor and continue the Gateway tunnel project “as it was agreed to by the last administration.”

The project, which could cost $24 billion, would double rail capacity between New Jersey and New York and replace portions of the century-old infrastructure.

Federal officials and Amtrak previously agreed to pay half the cost, with New York and New Jersey responsible for the other half.

Christie also continued to point fingers over recent transit problems, citing “the absolute failure of the federal government” to “keep the current infrastructure in workable condition.”

Christie has previously heaped blame on Amtrak, including after 1,200 people were stuck in a tunnel under the Hudson River on Friday for three hours.

While the governor faulted Amtrak — which accepted responsibility for two recent derailments — for failing to maintain its facilities, Amtrak said after Friday’s incident that it was investigating issues with the NJ Transit train that became disabled.

On Wednesday morning, NJ Transit reported another disabled train, causing delays in and out of New York Penn Station.

Noting Wednesday’s delays, Booker said at the news conference: “This is a point of unacceptability.” He did not target NJ Transit, which critics accuse Christie of neglecting, including by repeatedly diverting funding from the agency’s capital budget.

Booker did not fault Christie for withdrawing in 2010 from a rail-tunnel project that the governor had argued was unfair to New Jersey taxpayers. “That’s history,” Booker said of the scuttled ARC tunnel. “I hate to have to revisit that all the time.” The federal Government Accountability Office later said that Christie had overstated the project’s estimated costs.

Booker answered several media questions, including ones meant for Christie. The governor took the microphone for only one question, when a reporter asked why he was holding a news conference instead of speaking to Trump directly.

“This stuff has to be done in an orderly fashion,” including with Chao, Christie said. But “the president is well aware of my point of view.”