Murphy Picks Turnpike Veteran to Be New Jersey Transportation ChiefBy
Nominee points to need for revenue, and is mum on higher fares
Review ahead for high-ranking staff with links to Christie
New Jersey Governor-elect Phil Murphy chose a toll-road veteran to oversee transportation, charging her with fixing a commuter bus and rail system he called “a national disgrace.”
Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti for the past six-and-a-half years has been director of Florida’s turnpikes. From 2008 to 2010, she was executive director of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, which oversees toll roads and was where she had a 21-year career.
“There’s no doubt that revenue is going to be required to accomplish the mission,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said at a news conference at New Jersey Transit’s Secaucus station. She declined to say whether a fare increase is in the works, explaining that she must study finances of the nation’s largest statewide mass-transportation agency.
Under Republican Governor Chris Christie, New Jersey Transit, once a national model, has shifted billions of dollars to day-to-day operations from its capital account. Two fare increases during his administration haven’t kept pace with the need for maintenance and equipment upgrades, and rail commuters increasingly endure crowded rides and late connections. The railroad has the most accidents and safety fines among its peers, and the second-highest number of breakdowns, federal data show.
The transportation commissioner, Murphy said, will “take care of the national disgrace that is New Jersey Transit: Turn it upside down and shake it up, so we can make it right again.”
Gutierrez-Scaccetti and Murphy, a Democrat who will take office next month, indicated that at least some of Christie’s senior-level hires may depart. New Jersey lawmakers on an investigative committee examining NJ Transit’s operations and finances for more than a year have sought information about a dozen employees who once worked for Christie’s campaigns or the administration. Their requests, made under subpoena, have been rebuffed.
“We need relevant competence in the key seats urgently,” Murphy said. “If that competence doesn’t exist or if it’s in the wrong seat we will deal with that, I think, aggressively and immediately,” Murphy said.