NJT a “national disgrace”? No way!

Written by William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
image description

As is the tradition in New Jersey, the state I’ve called home since birth, the incoming governor 1) trashes New Jersey Transit and 2) proceeds to “fix” everything by cleaning house and starting fresh. This political circus has been going on since the state took over a collapsing commuter rail system in the early 1980s. So what else is new?

This time, the circus turned into a virtual freak show. Before he even took the oath of office and set foot in the Statehouse in Trenton, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat (in my state, whether you’re blue or red doesn’t matter, because incivility is bipartisan) proceeded to take said foot and shove it deeply into his mouth by convening a press conference at Penn Station New York, where he called NJT a “national disgrace.”

This was revolting, demoralizing and mean-spirited, especially to the thousands of hardworking NJT employees dealing with difficult circumstances, among them a rail system in need of a major capital infusion, and burdened with having to operate a major portion of its services as a tenant on Amtrak’s decaying Northeast Corridor.

The true disgrace, in this case, was Murphy’s pontificating. But wait, it gets better.

Prior to taking office, Murphy and his transition team proceeded to send letters to approximately two-dozen senior NJT managers, asking them to submit their resignations. This was clearly a case of the governor-elect overstepping his bounds, and there were state legislators from both parties who were extremely ticked off. Jettisoning the existing Executive Director? That’s expected. But sticking your broom into headquarters to sweep away experienced people charged with running the system on a day-to-day basis? That’s unconscionable. Nevertheless, Murphy proceeded to orchestrate his transportation bloodbath.

Now, to be fair, some of those forced resignations were justified. Those were the political cronies of outgoing Gov. Chris Christie (and I don’t need to tell you about his sullied track record, political scandals, bombastic, overbearing personality, and failed run for the Presidency of the United States), practically all of whom held high paying jobs for which they were totally unqualified, and had no business being in. I won’t name names, but you know who you are. Hopefully you have all disappeared into the swamplands between Newark and New York. Good riddance.

As soon as he took office, Murphy signed an Executive Order mandating an audit of NJT to “determine inefficiencies and areas where the agency can improve.” We’ll see where that goes.

So where do we go from here? Is there a light at the end of the train tunnel? As of Jan. 30, it appears that way.

On Jan. 30, Murphy announced the nomination of an experienced transportation pro to serve as NJT Executive Director: Kevin S. Corbett, who currently serves as Vice President of Strategic Development at AECOM. At AECOM, Corbett has had an oversight role on critical projects including Amtrak’s Gateway Project, the first phase of New York City’s Second Avenue Subway, work on Penn Station New York, and PATH restoration after Superstorm Sandy.

Corbett’s credentials are impressive. Before joining AECOM, he served as Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Empire State Development Corp. and Executive Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Department of Economic Development. In those roles, Corbett was responsible for the state’s economic development programs and projects, including redevelopment of Times Square, Moynihan Station, and the creation of Brooklyn Bridge Park. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Corbett oversaw the economic recovery of Lower Manhattan.

Corbett currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Regional Plan Association as co-chair of its Transportation Committee. He also serves as the board president of the Maritime Association of the Port of New York and New Jersey, on the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and as a chairman of The New York League of Conservation Voters. Corbett was a fellow at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and serves as a Blue and Gold Officer for the U.S. Naval Academy.

Whew! OK Mr. Corbett, let’s see what you can do. By the way, when do you find time for all this stuff?

Murphy is calling on NJT’s board to take up the matter of Corbett’s appointment at its next meeting. Meanwhile, his political rhetoric continues:

“We can no longer continue to accept the dismal business as usual at an agency that so many commuters throughout New Jersey depend on. We cannot continue to wake up in the morning fearing reliability and safety on our commutes.”

OK, Philip Dunton Murphy, enough already. You say that you are “confident that Kevin’s leadership can help turn NJT into a transportation system that our commuters value and trust. As Executive Director, he will help implement these recommendations and rework the agency’s finances, leadership structure, customer experience and safety measures.”

Nice words, Philip. Let’s see if you’ll back them up with actions. Now that you’ve spoken your “piece” about New Jersey’s “national disgrace,” it’s time for you to stop blowing your air horn, vacate the locomotive cab and allow Kevin Corbett and the good people at New Jersey Transit to do their jobs, without political meddling, and without taking credit for every improvement. Think you can do that?

I’m not holding my breath.

Godspeed Kevin Corbett. You’ve got you’re work cut out for you.

Tags: , , , , , ,