WASHINGTON -- Federal lawmakers from New Jersey announced a series of steps Monday they said would reduce wait times at Newark Airport security checkpoints, which have sometimes stretched to more than an hour.
The lawmakers said the Transportation Security Administration, which added 25 agents to Newark last weekend, will hire 95 new screeners by next month.
In addition, the agency will deploy 11 teams of bomb-sniffing dogs in order to expedite screening and is working with the airport's largest airline, United, to open a Pre-Check enrollment desk in Terminal C. Pre-Check offers passengers a chance to bypass regular security lines if they pay a fee and undergo a background check.
"While tight airport security procedures are clearly necessary, we cannot accept travelers enduring unreasonable and excruciating, two-hour-long lines just to get through check points," said U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.).
Airports around the country have been beset by extra-long lines because TSA doesn't have enough trained personnel to screen an increasing number of passengers flying the friendly skies and toting along extra carry-on baggage because airlines now charge to check it.
"The transportation security officers do a great job," said Christopher Bidwell, vice president of security for the Airports Council International-North America, the Washington-based trade group for Newark and other U.S. airports. "There just aren't enough of them."
The TSA needs 5,400 more screeners at checkpoints, Bidwell said. The agency recently received congressional approval to increase its workforce by spending $34 million initially earmarked for other purposes.
The agency doesn't have funds to hire even more screeners because billions of dollars in aviation security fees were siphoned off for other purposes.
A 9/11 security fee adds $11.20 to the price of a roundtrip ticket. But $1.20 of that fee goes to reduce the federal deficit instead of improving airline security. That amounts to $1.25 billion a year and $13 billion over 10 years, according to the airports council.
"If they had these funds, we'd be having a very different discussion," said Kevin Burke, president and chief executive of the council. "The money is there. Use it for what it's intended for."
TSA spokesman Michael England did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
At Newark Airport on Monday, Menendez joined U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and U.S. Reps. Albio Sires (D-8th Dist.) and Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th Dist.) to announce a new prescription for what ails that major transportation hub, which pumps nearly $23 billion into the economy and is responsible for 162,000 jobs and $8.3 billion in salaries.
"The outrageously long wait times we have witnessed in Newark not only slow down travel, but they also slow down economic growth for New Jersey and the region," Booker said.
New Jersey lawmakers have complained about hours-long wait times at Newark Airport, which causes passengers to miss flights and perhaps look to fly out of a different airport next time.
Earlier this month, they asked TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger to take steps to reduce wait times there.
"We have pressed TSA to address these insufferable wait times, passed additional funding through both houses of Congress, and now it is my hope that the new resources coming on board here at Newark will improve conditions for the air travelers," said Sires, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Payne, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said these measures "will help alleviate long lines and wait times at the airport while still maintaining the strong security standards that are necessary to ensure the safety of the traveling public."