William Whalen, a member of the Iron Workers Local 45 of Hudson County, attended a union rally for the Access to the Regions Core (ARC) Tunnel this past Tuesday, not knowing whether he would have a job or not on Friday, when Gov. Christopher Christie was scheduled to make a decision.
“We actually set that bridge there that you are looking at,” Whalen said, looking beneath Tonnelle Avenue, where the tunnel underpass would be dug into the Palisades.
“This thing is going to create a lot of jobs for New Jersey,” he said. “We need the jobs…the governor is really telling us right now that he doesn’t care about us.”
The New Jersey Building Trades were joined by U.S. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez (both D-N.J.), as well as U.S. Representatives Steve Rothman and Frank Pallone, Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Seacucus), Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex), and other officials. The theme was a plea for Christie to consider continuing the $8.7 billion project.
“New Jersey’s unemployment rate is near 10 percent, but the governor says he doesn’t care about jobs.” – Frank Lautenberg
On Oct. 19, construction workers from throughout the region were focused on employment, which most said has been hard to come by as of late.
Lautenberg said that he read in a published report that Christie said he didn’t “want to hear about the jobs” that could be generated through the project.
“New Jersey’s unemployment rate is near 10 percent, but the governor says he doesn’t care about jobs,” said Lautenberg. “I wonder if he’d say this to the wives and the families of workers, who can’t work. In the construction industry, unemployment has hit 17 percent.”
Looking for work
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) President Charles Wowkanech said that it would be a “grave mistake” to cancel construction which would provide union workers of all trades, from plumbers to carpenters, with work. He said that approximately 6,000 construction jobs would predominately be in New Jersey.
Michael Johnson, a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 43, has been unemployed for almost a year.
“As you can see, there are a lot of us out of work,” he said, looking around the hundreds of union members present.
Dave Castner of Sheet Metal Workers Local 22 said that one of his contractors was supposed to be awarded work, but since the project was frozen, his job has been “in flux.”
Castner said that steel workers would be employed to create air conditioning, ventilation, and metal siding and roofing.
It’s been at least 10 years since a construction job could offer jobs on this scale, he said.
“People waited for these projects to start…to have members working on the project, and all of a sudden to have the rug pulled out from under their feet…this is contributing to unemployment,” Paul Roldan, a business agent for the New Jersey Building Trades Labor Local 325, said.
44,000 permanent jobs
In addition to construction jobs, NJ Transit has said that around 44,000 jobs could be generated from ARC.
Menendez said that studies, conducted by New Jersey institutions and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey all came to this conclusion. He said that jobs would be created mainly in northern New Jersey with the greatest number in New Jersey “…although certainly some of them will be in New York as well.”
“Make no mistake, there is a real need here in New Jersey that must be fixed,” said Rothman. “There is a reason why people donated more than a decade to addressing the need for another tunnel under the Hudson River for trains, because they are at capacity now for New Jersey commuters trying to get to good paying jobs in New York.”
He said that ignoring the aging infrastructure of tunnels, as well as bridges and roads will end in failure for New Jersey’s economy.
The tunnel was originally slated to be complete in 2018, and according to NJ Transit, would double the number of trains traveling between New Jersey and New York from its current 23 per hour to 48. The FTA has promised $3 billion, the Port Authority agreed to $3 billion, leaving New Jersey with a $2.7 billion bill.
“Just five months ago, in a letter to the [U.S.] Secretary of Transportation, [Christie] made it clear, his words, not mine, that this was a critical project and that it was a critical project to the transit riders, that it was critical to our economy,” said Menendez.
Menendez said that New Jersey Commissioner of Transportation Jim Simpson, while working as the FTA administrator under former President George W. Bush, said that the project was important to New Jersey. Still, the project was under the control of NJ Transit and the New Jersey Department of Transportation, which made Menendez question why Christie claims the state doesn’t know the true cost of ARC.
Lautenberg said that for months Christie has not permitted NJ Transit employees to work out solutions with the FTA. He said that in order for the project to move forward Christie will have to see the “need” of it.
Menendez said that perhaps New Jersey could not currently afford the “Cadillac” version and offered a way to cut $1.5 billion from the project. He said that they could defer improvements at the Kearny Rail Yard, delaying completing the lower-level Penn Station extension, defer creating the loop-track in Secaucus, and also wait on several train entrances “that wouldn’t be necessary” immediately. He also said that a public-private partnership could cover up to $3 billion.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.