JERSEY CITY – U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York) been in Congress for almost two years, and he says his second year was a big improvement on the first, in part because he feels focused in his new job as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
"It takes a while to be effective because it’s very much based on seniority," Sires said of the Congress. "The first year was very difficult. I was new. The entire Democratic Congress was new.
"But I have a mission now," said the freshman congressman. "I still enjoy being on the foreign affairs committee very much, but I also have transportation now and that’s critical. My job is to go after the money for transportation and infrastructure projects."
Sires has confidence he can get federal money for the ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) Tunnel, but he needs the state to get in gear.
U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN), chair of the House Transportation Committee, told Sires he understands the importance of maintaining New Jersey’s infrastructure, and wants to help fund what Gov. Jon Corzine has identified as the most significant piece of the state’s mass transit overhaul.
"He likes the idea of the project," said Sires said of Oberstar.
The ARC project – which would include a new station and six new tracks into New York – is estimated to cost $7.5 billion, or $1.5 billion from New Jersey, $3.5 billion from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) and $3 billion from federal sources.
Sires can’t get the federal money for the ARC until the state delivers matching funds, and to this point Trenton has not been able to secure a plan to make solvent the state’s Transportation Trust Fund and finance its share of the ARC Tunnel project.
In the wake of the governor’s failed toll hike and monetization proposals, legislators are working on an alternative, according to legislative leadership.
"It’s our first priority come September," Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts (D-Camden) told PolitickerNJ.com last month.
But it’s slow-going. State Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. (R-Union), said the Republicans are prepared to put their transportation plan on the table, but in the last few days, Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex), who told Sires "we’re no where near an agreement."
Irritated that New York is not assuming more of the cost for the tunnel, state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) fired off a letter to Gov. David Paterson yesterday – co-signed by state other GOP legislators and lone Democrat Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D-Montclair).
Becks wants New York to throw in more cash.
"New York’s contribution only comes from funds from the bi-state agency of the PANYNJ," wrote the state senator. "It is our belief the New York State should shoulder some of the cost of the ARC project, separate and distinct from its portion of the PANYNJ contribution."
Sires has also been working with Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville), chairman of the Assembly Transportation and Public Works Committee.
On another transportation front, Sires says he is working to get funding next year as part of New Jersey’s share from an historic transportation bill, including a light rail extension to the Meadowlands and money for bridge improvements.
He also lent his name to successful passage of the National Highway and Bridge Reconstruction and Inspection Act of 2008 (H.R. 3999), which will assign risk-based federal priority to repair, rehabilitate, or replace bridges in need.