Most of the speeches given by federal, state, and local officials at the Mass Transit Tunnel Project’s groundbreaking on Monday not only echoed sentiments about what they called the most important transit project in the United States right now, but stressed the effort it took to make the $8.7 billion plan come to fruition.
The press conference marked the beginning of construction of an underpass that will run beneath Tonnelle Avenue and lead to tunnels through the Palisades Cliffs. The train line through the underpass will end at a newly expanded Penn Station in Manhattan starting in 2017.
The Mass Transit Tunnel Project, also known as Access to the Region’s Core (ARC), is being built by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and NJ Transit. It is projected that 6,000 new jobs will be created during each year of construction.
Besides providing more train transportation for commuters and creating jobs, there is a security aspect, said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) on Monday. He said that the “two-mile stretch” between Newark Airport and the Hudson River coast is considered the most dangerous place for an attack in this country, and that for the nation’s security, another entrance to and from New York City is necessary for the region.
Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff announced Monday that the federal government will pledge $1.35 billion, including a downpayment of $400 million of funding, in federal stimulus funds, as well as $125 million in Federal Highway congestion mitigation funds.
To date, the FTA had pledged $3 billion in total to the project. NJ Transit, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have collectively secured almost $6 billion in funding.
Rogoff said $3 billion was the largest commitment every made to a transit project in the FTA’s history.
While New York officials were also invited to attend the event, Gov. Jon Corzine said Monday that those officials were unable to attend, but that their cooperation has been essential.
Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, Reps. Donald Payne, Albio Sires and Steve Rothman, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Chairman Anthony Coscia, Port Authority Executive Christopher Ward, New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Stephen Dilts, NJ Transit Executive Director Richard Sarles, and North Bergen Mayor and State Sen. Nicholas Sacco were in attendance.
Sarles said that Corzine in 2005 as a U.S. senator helped make the project a priority and followed through as governor.
Corzine explained that the project was only possible because of its countless proponents, like Lautenberg, who he said fought for years to make sure it was not forgotten.
He said that the project had national significance because it will create 44,000 permanent jobs and double the current railway capacity in the area.
The announcement of more federal funding last week now means that the project is currently fully funded.
“I’ve been familiar with this project and worked on it years ago when Frank Lautenberg was my sub-committee chairman, but back then we never really felt that we would get here because we never really thought that the states and localities would be able to put up a sizable enough match to make a project like this a reality,” said Rogoff.
Rogoff continued, “Governor Corzine has proved us wrong, and we couldn’t be more thrilled that he did. When you’ve got a tunnel that’s already at capacity and transit ridership alone expected to grow perhaps double in the next 20 years, we don’t have the choice in not doing this project. So that fact that the leadership came together and that the money came together to make it a reality is a thrill for me, especially on the 10th day of the job.”
Rogoff, and many of the other officials present, echoed the fact that bipartisanship had a lot to do with the Mass Transit Tunnel getting off the ground.
Lautenberg said that the tunnel will reduce carbon emissions, create jobs, and benefit future generations.
“I’ll never forget in 1910 when they started the first tunnel here in North Bergen,” Lautenberg joked. “It didn’t look anything like this.”
Lautenberg said that the real people who will make a difference would be the laborers that would undergo the task of building the tunnel.
“I think it truly is time to use the word historical.” – Jon Corzine
Corzine said that the state of New York and New Jersey will both benefit from jobs and tax revenues.
Coscia said that the project was about a lot more than a tunnel, but about “its people, and our job is simple, to get them where they need to be and move them around.”
Time is important
Corzine said that it is essential for the project to stay on a timeline and that within a week, he will make an executive order with the state controller to make sure on a consistent basis that performance and contractual requirements were being fulfilled.
“This is not about one person, or even generation,” Corzine said. “I think it truly is time to use the word ‘historical.’ ”
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.