Leaders Say Gateway Project on Track

NJ Spotlight News | December 12, 2016 | Politics, Transportation
Gateway calls for doubling the number of tracks, building a new tunnel and rehabilitating the existing tunnel.

By Erin Delmore

“We have to get it done,” said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.

A long-languishing plan to repair and expand rail tunnels under the Hudson River is gaining momentum. Elected officials and business leaders from New Jersey and New York say the Gateway Program is on track and all the major players on board.

“We saw in the ARC Tunnel, that when you don’t have all of the stakeholders in agreement, then you have failure. Here we have all the stakeholders in agreement. Now, it took time to align them — the states of New York and New Jersey, The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, NJ Transit, the federal government. But those are all aligned, so now the push is actually to fund it,” said Sen. Bob Menendez.

Commuters have heard this one before: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie derailed the ARC Tunnel Project early in his first term. Trans-Hudson ridership is at capacity and expected to double by 2030.

It’s the busiest cross-river transit hub in North America with up to 24 trains an hour.

“At its busiest point between New York and New Jersey, the Northeast Corridor consists of only two main tracks. Those tracks pass over a 106-year-old, often malfunctioning, portal bridge, through a century old and significantly Sandy damaged Hudson River tunnel and into an overcrowded and constrained Penn Station,” Anthony Coscia, Amtrak‘s chairman of the board, said.

The plan calls for doubling the number of tracks, building a new tunnel and rehabilitating the existing tunnel at a $20 billion tag. Last year, the federal government agreed to pay half. This year’s $64,000 question: How will the new administration react?

“This will be the first test of the Trump Administration in its commitment to New York City and its commitment to infrastructure. Now, I’ve talked to the president-elect about both. He’s called me and he says he wants to do a major infrastructure bill of us to a trillion dollars. That’s great. It needs to be done in the right way. If it’s just tax breaks for developers, this project wouldn’t get built, and so many others would not get built,” Schumer said.

“Anybody who runs for office who’s talking about a massive infrastructure project, this has sort of been laid up for him, better than any other major project. If you just look at the cost benefit analysis alone, just the economic case, there’s no better dollar you can invest in America right now in terms of the return on that investment that you’re going to get,” Sen. Cory Booker said. “If you want to grow this nation’s GDP like the president-elect says he wants to do, get up to 3, 4 percent, this is the region that’s going to help contribute to that. And in order to make that happen you’ve got to prime the pump and put the infrastructure in place so that we can explode in our growth.”

“I think they’ve recognized that to make America great again, they’ve got to make our infrastructure great again. I think there’s a recognition to Sen. Schumer’s point, that it’s not all the sexy stuff. When you look at our infrastructure, take the Port Authority’s budget, take the MTA budget, more than 50 percent of those $30 billion budgets is repairing what is broken, not doing what is new. If they think about that trillion dollars, it’s probably half and half,” said Scott Rechler, former vice-chair of The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. “There’s got to be a real focus on politics not trumping professionalism and waste. We as a country and we in this region have seen too many projects started by government agencies that people fund, the funding goes into black holes and the delays occur and they don’t get done.”

With two governors, four senators and the tri-state region’s major transportation agencies on board, key players say they can see the light at the end of this tunnel. They have high hopes it’ll pave the way for more successful infrastructure projects to come.