Senate Dems Propose New Rail Tunnel

March 17, 2015 | Politics, Transportation
Senate Democrats have proposed selling PA assets to fund the Gateway Tunnel under the Hudson River.

By Brenda Flanagan

World Trade Center’s among several Port Authority assets that Senate Democrats want to leverage — sell, basically — to drum up $3 billion down payment for a brand-new Gateway Tunnel under the Hudson.

Some 450 trains a day travel the two current tunnels. But a recent engineering report shows cracks and leaks plague these century-old tunnels — battered further by flooding and corrosion during Sandy. If one ends up closing for repairs, repercussions would ripple through the region.

“If a tunnel shuts down, 3/4 of the rail traffic stops with it, which will cripple the economy of this state,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

“We need the funding for a new tunnel. So it is about time for the PA to get back to its basic mission — transportation — and divest itself of their real estate holdings,” said Sen. Loretta Weinberg.

The proposed Gateway Tunnel would run south of the Lincoln, into New York’s Penn Station. It carries an estimated $7.5 billion price tag and the feds would pay for some of it.

“But the federal government needs a commitment from New Jersey and New York to fund that project, and that’s why we’re talking about the Port Authority selling off real estate assets to generate that funding to make that commitment to do this tunnel,” Sweeney said.

“One in 15 employed New Jersey residents commute via transit. Those stats should impress to you the importance of the Gateway Tunnel and why we need to see this funded and moving forward,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanderpool.

We asked travelers.

“I think in the long term putting another tunnel through is long overdue. If you do in and out of New York periodically you know what a hassle it can be. It’s a long-term investment,” said Don Apanovitch of Flemington.

When asked if officials should pay for it by leveraging sales of buildings the Port Authority owns, Maria Willis of Neptune said, “I think so. Where else is the money gonna come from?”

Nobody’s agreed on which assets would be sold. In a statement, the Port Authority said, it’s “…focused on meeting the increasing requirements for Trans-Hudson transit capacity at our crossings and terminals …and prudently divesting non-core real estate holdings in order to focus on our core transportation mission.”

“There is enough real estate holdings that can be used as seed money to begin this Gateway Project. If they can’t come up with it, then they shouldn’t be commissioners any longer. And we’ll sit down and look at the holdings,” said Sen. Paul Sarlo.

The special report commissioned by Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo already recommended selling off some PA assets, in part to save operating costs. But how to spend any profits, that would require consensus from both sides of the river.