When completed, the project is expected to double rail capacity between New Jersey and New York.
"For those of us who have believed in this project from the very beginning, today is a very special day," Gov. Corzine said. "The THE Tunnel is critical to the region's economic growth and mobility, and I am proud to see it moving forward."
With FTA approval now in hand, the New Jersey Transit Board of Directors is expected to award a contract for preliminary engineering work as early as August. Construction of the $6 billion project is scheduled to begin in 2009, with completion expected in 2016.
The FTA notified Congress on July 19 that it will formally approve preliminary engineering of the Access to the Region's Core program, which features THE Tunnel as its focal point, joining a select group of projects that have been advanced into the engineering phase following a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis and funding review by the FTA. In its most recent report to Congress, the FTA had approved only 20 out of 300 projects nationwide, which equates to less than seven percent.
Local U.S. Senators voice support
New Jersey's two U.S. senators offered strong support for THE Tunnel as it proceeds on its next bureaucratic step towards reality.
"As an early supporter of this project, I welcome the news that we are one step closer to realizing a Trans-Hudson Express tunnel," said U.S. Senator and Hoboken resident Robert Menendez. "This announcement is good news for New Jersey's transportation infrastructure, good news for New Jersey's economic development, and good news for New Jersey's families who currently use mass transit for their daily commute."
"New Jerseyans need more transportation choices to avoid congestion, so this step is good news," added senior U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg. "But we still have a long way to go, and we can't let up until this new rail tunnel is complete."
What is to be done
During the preliminary engineering phase of the project, New Jersey Transit will attempt to achieve several important goals. They will finalize the track alignment, determine the most advantageous tunnel building techniques, coordinate construction packages with Amtrak and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to mitigate customer impact and determine the electrical power, railroad signaling, communications, and safety system needs.
As part of the next engineering phase, New Jersey Transit will also develop the station architecture and construction methods, begin the environmental permitting process, finalize plans for connections to the new station to existing subway and PATH lines in Manhattan, and create the new train operating plans to accommodate the additional services that will be possible upon completion.
"Because this project is so critical to the economic health and mobility of New Jersey and the region, we will not waste a moment in getting started," said state transportation commissioner and New Jersey Transit chairman Kris Kolluri. "We are committed to having shovels in the ground as soon as possible."
Earlier this year, Governor Corzine committed close to $500 million for the Trans-Hudson Express Tunnel to New Jersey Transit's capital program to speed the project along. Additional funding for the $6 billion project is expected from the federal government and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Importance of the project
According to recent regional transportation studies, approximately half of all commuters in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area cross the Hudson River on their way to Manhattan everyday in order to get to work. The existing two-track tunnel in place is already operating near full capacity and cannot handle additional volume. The proposed project will include a new two-track tunnel that will supplement the existing tunnel. The tracks will go under the Hudson River and the New Jersey Palisades, with the Manhattan terminus to be located at a new six-track passenger station to be built underneath 34th Street adjacent to the current Penn Station.
On the Garden State side of the river, riders in Hudson, Bergen, Essex, Union, Monmouth and Hunterdon counties served by the New Jersey Transit Main Line/Bergen County, Pascack Valley and Raritan Valley lines would be able to enjoy a one-seat, or no transfer ride, to Manhattan.
Port Authority chairman Anthony Coscia gave the ongoing tunnel project a sense of historical perspective.
"Construction of this commuter tunnel under the Hudson River is an important today as the building of the Lincoln Tunnel and the George Washington Bridge was to earlier generations," he said. "Years from now, we will look back and recognize THE Tunnel as the turning point in creating a true regional economy."