Could PATH extension be a ‘plan B’ for Gateway Tunnel?

The proposed $1.7 billion PATH extension plan is inching forward, but not without heated debate. It’ll add a new stop on the Newark to World Trade Center line connecting travelers to the airport. State Sen. Bob Gordon initially rebuffed the proposal, saying the Port Authority should focus more on funding the Gateway Tunnel and a new bus terminal. Now it appears he’s had a change of heart. He spoke with Correspondent Briana Vannozzi about why the project may be necessary.

Vannozzi: Senator, thanks for being here.

Gordon: Great to be here.

Vannozzi: So, I’ve sat in committee hearings and heard your stance against this, what’s changed your mind?

Gordon: Well, one of the major changes is our concern that the Gateway Tunnel, probably the most critical transportation infrastructure in the country, may not get funded by the federal government and we need billions of dollars from the federal government to make that project work. Or, given the way Washington is working now, maybe greatly delayed. And at the same time, we’re concerned about the condition of the existing 108-year-old tunnels which were damaged by Sandy and could fail. And, so what we really need is a plan B. Alternative ways to get across the Hudson particularly if we have problems with our rail tunnels. And, so the PATH extension to Newark airport, if made a park and ride facility, which was not in the original plan, could be viewed as just another way to get people across the Hudson.

Vannozzi: Because we’re not seeing guaranteed funding from the Trump administration yet, are we?

Gordon: We’re getting mixed messages and we have a Congress that’s not particularly, well, has not been enthusiastic about supporting the Northeast Corridor funding and so there are just a lot of question marks and we may not see a projected completed until 2030, 2033 and the Gateway tunnels may not last that long. So, the clock is ticking. We need to look for alternatives.

Vannozzi: Which makes me think about this expansion is going to put more strain on the line. We already know that capacity is full. I live in Jersey City, I ride the PATH, I know how crammed it is on those trains. And we don’t necessarily see that being factored into this plan. How are we going to account for that?

Gordon: I’m glad you asked that because another part of this, another component is the expansion of the platforms at the Jersey City PATH stations which will allow us to go from eight cars per train to 10.

Vannozzi: What does that mean passenger wise?

Gordon: Well, it means in combination with the extension to Newark airport perhaps another 15,000 riders. PATH did a fabulous job during the summer when we had the so called hell when ridership went up I think 303,000. I mean, it was a remarkable job by the PATH system. But, we need to invest in the infrastructure, we need to invest in expanding those platforms and we’re pushing for money in the current capital budget for that.

Vannozzi: We saw a little chunk go toward the new Port Authority bus terminal, not enough to do the whole project though.

Gordon: Not enough. I think we’re looking for about $15 million to do a feasibility study of expanding the platforms. I believe there’s already money in the capital budget for buying new rail cars. And, then we extend the PATH to Newark airport and we have just another route across the Hudson.

Vannozzi: Quickly, are you satisfied right now with the progress on the bus terminal? This is something that you’ve advocated for quite some time?

Gordon: Well, we’re about to have another meeting at the Port Authority, I believe in the next week, to talk about what we call the build up option or build in place which is to add two new floors to the existing terminal and we can get that done a lot faster than building a whole new terminal at another location. The idea is let’s add capacity right away with those two new floors and then redo the bottom floors. And, the engineers tell us it’s possible to do and it appears to be financially feasible and it’ll be a much faster way of increasing capacity. So, we need to do that in concert with the work on the PATH.

Vannozzi: And we should mention that you and your colleague, Sen. Teresa Ruiz, will be commenting on the second public hearing for this plan today. So, we will be looking to see what comes out of that. Senator, thanks very much for dropping by.

Gordon: Great, good to be here. Thanks.