Regional Plan Association Pres.: New Tunnel Would Address Need in Rails and Economy

NJ Spotlight News | September 18, 2015

Behind landmark projects — the George Washington Bridge, New York’s Second Avenue Subway, the Revitalization of Newark — is a group that studies the proposals impact on poverty rates and crime. Safe streets and sustainability, the strength of power grids and old underground pipes. Along with local governments and their debt loads, that big picture is the focus of the Regional Plan Association, which produces a comprehensive proposal every 30 years and is about to publish its fourth in 90 years. It’s President is Tom Wright, who told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that the prospects for the Gateway Tunnel project have improved over the last couple of days.

“I think that we’re at an important moment for this. I should say that the last plan that we did called for building that tunnel under the Hudson river. It also called for building the Second Avenue subway in connecting the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central. Those two projects are moving forward, but this is really the last project from the prior plan and we’re glad to see it moving now,” said Wright.

Wright said it is important to build a new tunnel to the region because it is what connects the Northeast coast, from Boston all the way to Washington D.C. According to Wright, Superstorm Sandy left the current tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York with damage and that the tunnel is in danger of failing.

“And so, we need to have new tunnels there. Both to make sure we don’t lose the capacity that we have today and to provide for the growing future and the jobs and the population that is going to come over the next 25 to 50 years,” he said.

According to Wright, when the Regional Plan Association put out their last plan, scientist began to talk about the heat of the planet and concerns surrounding climate change. Wright said the association acknowledges climate change and that they know about the potential of stronger storms and floods in the future. He also said that technology has changed over the years, as well as people’s commutation patterns.

“So we have all these kinds of new issues, but there’s still other issues like how do we help the communities that have been isolated, cut out from economic opportunities? How do we break down barriers and segregation? How do we provide opportunity and education to all of our children and so those are issues that we’ve been fighting for over 50 years, 90 years?” Wright said.

In order to get the new tunnel project done, Wright said that it requires working closely with state, local and federal governments.

When asked what challenges are specific to New Jersey, Wright said New Jersey is a pass through state and that it connects to both New York and Philadelphia.

“We’re a pass through state and that’s where our economy comes from and our proximity to Philadelphia and especially New York City,” he said. “New York City is probably the most important and the fastest growing industry in New Jersey and so our connections to New York have been critical. Likewise, New York City really benefits from New Jersey and the educated labor force and the opportunity to put back office operations and logistics and other things here. So really kind of the connection between these two states and between New Jersey and New York City in particular are a key focus of the work we do.”

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