NEWARK - It’s hard to travel in New Jersey without feeling the influence of Sen. Frank Lautenberg.
In his three decades in the US Senate, Lautenberg secured $500 million in funding for New Jersey Transit’s Secaucus Transfer Station which now bears his name, brought in more than $1 billion for the Hudson Bergen Light Rail, and obtained nearly $20 billion to bail out Amtrak.
Sen. Robert Menendez, Lautenberg’s Senate colleague for the past seven years, says Lautenberg “was Mr. Transportation. As I ride Amtrak back to Washington today, I’ll be thinking all the way about Frank Lautenberg. If you look at our mass transportation as a whole, you’ve got to think about Frank Lautenberg.”
Lautenberg’s legacy is also felt on New Jersey roads, where he will be remembered as a crusader against drunken driving. He wrote two of the landmark pieces of legislation, one that raised the drinking age to 21, and another that lowered the legal blood alcohol limit to .08. Even air travelers feel the Lautenberg touch; he wrote the bill that outlawed smoking on commercial airplanes.
Lautenberg also made his mark in environmental policy. He authored the “Toxic Right to Know Law”, which requires companies to disclose what chemicals they released into the air, water and ground. He was a staunch backer of the federal Superfund cleanup program, blocked plans to drill for oil off the Jersey shore, and led the push for “green buildings”.
Lautenberg’s influence will also be felt in a myriad of other, diverse areas. His legislation made it illegal for people convicted of domestic violence to own guns. And he led the fight to provide health care to Sept. 11 first responders sickened by their work at Ground Zero.
“The ways in which he leaves an imprint in our lives way beyond his death is pretty amazing,” Menendez says.