Chipping paint and crumbling walls are just a couple of the signs the New Brunswick train station is in need of a little TLC. On Tuesday, representatives of the government agencies in charge of it said the transit hub will get that, and a whole lot more.
Stations used by NJ Transit passengers in the Middlesex County town, as well as in Elizabeth, Trenton and Princeton Junction will all see improvement projects start this fall, including platform repairs, the installation of new lighting, and major work to make the terminals wheelchair accessible. In New Brunswick, hometown of the main campus of Rutgers University, a walkway will also be built to connect the station with a new innovation center under development nearby.
All four stations sit on the Northeast Corridor line that NJ Transit shares with Amtrak, and officials touted the improvements as evidence of new cooperation between the two transportation agencies.
“We think that these are all installments in what will ultimately be a long-term, deep program in order to make things better in the region,” said Tony Coscia, Amtrak’s board chairman, who joined NJ Transit officials and Gov. Phil Murphy for the announcement.
NJ Transit and Amtrak in February announced their new “Power in Partnership” program, with the stated purpose of repairing neglected train stations. But the focus was also on repairing a fractured relationship that was standing in the way of getting things done.
“For years, a number of the projects that we have going on in Northeast Corridor were languished,” said Kevin Corbett, NJ Transit’s President and CEO. “They were actually funded significantly by the federal government, and they have not moved ahead.”
“The agreement that we made with Amtrak is not just a piece of paper,” he added. “It has taken incredible resources to make a lot of the projects we have stalled move ahead.”
The work on the stations is being funded roughly 90% by the federal government, with the rest coming from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund. New Jersey’s share is $100 million, officials said.
“That’s a ration we’d take all day long,” Murphy said.
Commuters say they’ve suffered as a result of the agencies’ inability to work together.
“There’s no elevators, there’s no escalators,” said NJ Transit rider Joanna Youssef. “So you either have to walk all the way around and under the bridge.”
“There’s only one stair and one escalator, so when everyone’s in a rush, you’re just trying to squeeze in and everything,” said Darlene Matailo, who also said the station is often “filthy.”
Officials said some of the work on the stations would be completed by early next year, although other projects will take two years or more.
On a day when roughly a half dozen NJ Transit trains were canceled due to “personnel issues,” the officials said they recognize that the work of improving mass transit in the state has only just begun.
“As painful as it might be to rip this Band-Aid off and fix these problems,” Coscia said, “and there will be disruption in doing it, and there will be cost and resources, we need to do it. The longer we wait, the harder the problem is.”
The governor echoed the sentiment.
“We’re all in on funding NJ Transit,” Murphy said.
Meanwhile advocates said more needs to be done to provide NJ Transit with a dedicated source of funding.
“A lot of work that still needs to be done is shoring up NJ Transit’s finances,” said Janna Chernetz, director of NJ Policy at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “Sure, there’s more state money going to their operating budget. But, leaving NJ Transit’s operating budget open and vulnerable under the political annual budget process is not a way to run a transit agency.”