Most of New Jersey's congressional representatives have signed a letter urging NJ Transit to reach an agreement with the employee unions and avert a strike.

The letter calls NJ Transit service a "vital access point" for almost 300,000 commuters who use its trains and said that any job action would deal a "major blow" to the New Jersey economy, leaving those commuters without a way to get to New York, Hoboken and other key cities.

NJ Transit's unions have worked without a new contract for five years. A 60-day cooling-off period ends on March 12 following a Presidential Emergency Board recommendation that workers pay be increased by about 2.6 percent per year over the next 6½ years. NJ Transit said that deal is "not affordable" and would bring a fare increase of 30 percent.

The New Jersey Transit Rail Labor Coalition, which represents the 17 unions affected by a contract, said in a statement that at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, March 13 "every union on New Jersey Transit will strike if no agreement is reached" and expects its members to be locked out.

"NJT should seriously consider the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) 249 proposal," wrote the delegation, which said it is "sympathetic" to NJ Transit's financial situation but said the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act and an omnibus transportation spending bill passed by Congress in December would finance an increase in health costs.

The letter was signed by every representative except Republicans Scott Garrett and Rodney Frelinghuysen. Garrett was the only member of the NJ delegation to vote against the transportation bill.

The letter noted that there is also the chance that a third PEB round of negotiations could put off a strike.

Talks between both sides resumed on Wednesday.

"Both sides have some homework to do before we sit down and talk again," Stephen Burkert, general chairman of SMART-Transportation Division Local 60, told NJ Advance Media. "There is definitely hope. We're sitting at the table. It's a good sign."

A message for NJ Transit has not yet been returned.

Reporting by the Associated Press was used in this story.

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