NEW JERSEY — Friday was the fourth day of significant delays on NJ Transit trains between New Jersey and New York City in the last five days. One of the strongest critics of the delays, Gov. Chris Christie, may be part of the problem thanks to his cancellation of an already-underway solution.
Meanwhile, the governor and 2016 hopeful has now lent his support to the very relief project he canceled: a new rail tunnel system.
Passengers who spent yet another day delayed were not too pleased with Christie's change of mind.
"It's very concerning," said a North Jersey commuter who only gave his first name, Nick, regarding the repeated train delays. "Especially since the fares are going up, especially for someone like me, with a young family. It's just disheartening."
Another commuter, Jacqueline R. Banks, detailed how her commute has gone this week.
"[On Monday] it took a total of 70 minutes to get from East Orange into New York Penn Station," she said, adding that it usually takes 25 minutes.
The larger problem, according to NJTransit Rail passenger William Raff, is infrastructure.
"The public transportation system in this country is sorely in need of rebuilding. And it's very important," Raff told PIX11 News. "Funds [should] be allocated to do so."
Funding had been designated for a second tunnel system across the Hudson, which not only would have doubled capacity for interstate trains, it was also designed to relieve the volume traveling in the currently used tunnel, so that it could be freed up for repairs. However, in 2010, shortly after taking office, Christie eliminated the tunnel program, even though initial construction was already underway.
"Which would have been wonderful for us commuters, [and] easier. The greatest," said North Jersey commuter Antoinette Smith. "I wish he would have done it."
The new tunnel, called the Access to the Region's Core, or ARC, was also designed to modernize the cross-Hudson system.
The current tunnel, which consists of two tubes, is over a century old. After Christie deep-sixed the new project, New York Senator Charles Schumer called it "one of the worst decisions that any government leader has made in the 20th century or the 21st century."
Schumer had already secured federal funding for the project that Christie rejected, citing too-high costs for New Jersey. He accused New York State of not paying its share of the project that was forecasted to cost between $8 billion and $12 billion.
However, Christie has changed his tone of late.
"If I am president of the United States," he said in an appearance on Larry Kudlow's public affairs program set to air on WABC this weekend, "I call a meeting between the president, my secretary of transportation, the governor of New York, and the governor of New Jersey and say, ‘Listen, if we are all in this Even Steven.... then let’s go build these tunnels under the Hudson River.'"
Garden Staters are less than thrilled with their executive's about-face.
"Sounds like typical Christie rhetoric," said a commuter who did not give his name. "Appealing to the voters. He says one thing, [then] does the other all the time."
"I just simply want to see the problem fixed," said Jacqueline Banks, the commuter from East Orange. "I don't think it requires Chris Christie becoming president. He should have enough pride in his state and wanting to repair this."
On Friday afternoon, Christie released a statement placing the blame for the problem on the shoulders of Amtrak, which owns and operates the cross-Hudson tunnel.
"We have tried again and again to work cooperatively with Amtrak to resolve these issues," Christie's statement said in part, "but in the face of this repeated and unacceptable failure, I am calling on the Obama Administration and Congress to step up to their responsibility to the people of New Jersey and to the largest and most important regional infrastructure system in the nation.
“I have also asked the New Jersey Attorney General to review the matter to see what recourse New Jersey has to ensure the $100 million we pay Amtrak every year for use of this critical infrastructure is being used properly. I urge Senators Booker and Menendez to join me in holding Amtrak accountable for doing their job and demanding a plan of action to immediately and fully fix these issues,” the statement read.
Meanwhile, if the ARC tunnel project had proceeded as planned and budgeted, it would be more than 60 percent complete. It was due to open in 2018. There is currently no plan from the Christie Administration to revive the program.