The Republican challenger to state Sen. Bob Gordon (D-Bergen) is working to make one of the closest races this year into a referendum on transit issues at a time of serious delays for thousands of rail commuters in a district where residents need quick access to New York.
Kelly Langschultz, a New Milford councilwoman and business owner, is making the case that Gordon has been a weak advocate for commuters in the 38th District.
Gordon, a nine-year incumbent from Fair Lawn, is the vice chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee and co-chair of a special legislative panel investigating a series of train derailments and delays around New York Penn Station this year. And he just called another hearing after Amtrak, the Penn Station operator, surprised commuters by disrupting service earlier this week to carry out unannounced repairs.
Two NJ Transit train derailments this year at Penn Station have highlighted the need for urgent repairs, which Amtrak will be conducting this summer. Although much of the work is being done at night, Amtrak’s work schedule also includes at least two periods of service interruptions stretching into the workweek over the summer.
The repairs will suspend the Morris and Essex line’s direct service to Penn Station, instead rerouting commuters through the Hoboken PATH station.
Gordon has called on Amtrak to schedule as many repairs as possible during off-peak periods like Labor Day weekend instead of disrupting weekday service over the summer. That would minimize the impact on NJ Transit commuters, but holiday weekends are big for Amtrak customers, so Gordon’s proposal could disrupt their service.
NJ Transit, PATH and New York Waterways officials will all attend a joint hearing next week of the special legislative committee on transit issues.
“We need to thoroughly examine the agreement that NJ Transit, Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad reached and ensure that the pain is equally shared among commuters on the three railroads,” Gordon said in a statement announcing the hearing.
Langschultz says it never should have gotten this bad. In addition to claiming that Gordon needs to be held “accountable” for inaction that allowed NJ Transit issues to compound, the candidate has also heaped criticism on Gov. Chris Christie for only recently making Amtrak a focus.
“Gordon and Governor Christie kicked the can down the road for far too long and now we have a hole to dig ourselves out of,” she said.
But Gordon said he has played a pivotal role for a number of transit projects including pushing for a new Port Authority Bus Terminal, the Gateway Tunnel and the expansion of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail.
“If she is saying that I haven’t done much to help commuters not only in District 38 but in the entire state she hasn’t been following the developments in Trenton and Washington and New York,” Gordon said. “Those of us who really understand something about governing and not just criticizing know that you have to spend money on infrastructure projects or your communities will literally fall apart.”
Christie announced earlier this week that NJ Transit will slash fares for Morris and Essex line riders as much as 63 percent this summer to compensate for delays, something that Langschultz called for weeks ago when the delays were first announced. At a rail-focused press conference earlier this month in Trenton, Gordon said that he didn’t feel cutting fares would necessarily be wise, especially given that the agency already runs on a deficit.
“I think Governor Christie is doing the right thing and compensating riders by cutting fares,” Langschultz said. “I don’t understand how Senator Gordon doesn’t understand that to be a common-sense approach. Maybe he needs another hearing to mull over.”
In response, Gordon said hearings on important issues — and the TV cameras and public attention that come with it — are a critical tool to advance policy changes. They “put pressure on other politicians who are in the position to make some of the decisions,” he said.