As commuters across the state reluctantly gear up for a possible New Jersey Transit rail-worker strike in less than two weeks, Gov. Chris Christie yesterday said that he’s personally engaged in the labor dispute and is hoping to head off a work stoppage. But he also warned that New Jersey Transit is ready for a strike, with a contingency plan in place. New Jersey Transit was in the spotlight again in the afternoon, when the New Jersey for Transit Coalition released a report revealing that, among other things, ridership had climbed more than 20 percent in a little over a decade while funding had dropped by just less than a third since 2004. The report also indicated that the agency is relying heavily on capital funding to meet operating costs. Christie’s strong talk about what looks to be an increasingly likely New Jersey Transit work stoppage came during a wide-ranging afternoon news conference held in Trenton. It served as his first extended remarks on a number of topics, including his decision to quit the GOP presidential contest earlier this year and his more recent controversial endorsement of frontrunner Donald Trump. He also pushed back against lawmakers’ concerns that expiring funding for state transportation projects is reaching a crisis point.
Earlier this week, the editorial boards of several New Jersey newspapers called Christie “selfish” and said it was time for him to resign. But Christie, a second-term Republican, fired back strongly at those suggestions yesterday, saying he is not going to resign. He also said he isn’t planning to spend a lot of time outside New Jersey this year as a surrogate for Trump. And he added that he’s now ready to fight with Democratic legislative leaders over a number of key issues, including his latest nominee for the state Supreme Court and a funding source for the state Transportation Trust Fund, which is on course to run out of cash in June. When asked specifically about the concerns that have been raised about the possibility that 4,200 New Jersey Transit rail workers will strike on March 13, Christie said he was “very engaged” in the issue. Earlier in the day, New Jersey Transit officials laid out their contingency plan for the strike, saying a combination of agency buses and private carriers will help pick up the slack. Temporary park-and-ride lots in key locations like the PNC Bank Arts Center off the Garden State Parkway in Holmdel and MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford would also be utilized, agency officials said. But for weekday commuters trying to get into New York, New Jersey Transit officials also stressed that only 38,000 of the 105,000 daily commuters can be accommodated, meaning the bulk of those commuters and others on the state’s roadways should expect to be affected by the strike if it occurs. “We’re really at a crossroads and something needs to be done,” said Janna Chernetz, senior New Jersey policy analyst for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which is a member of the coalition. “This is the administration that must deal with this head on.”