It took 20 years to find funding for the Access to the Region’s Core Tunnel – two NJ Transit tubes that were suppose to create more passenger rail – and then only a year for the project to be cancelled by Gov. Christopher Christie.
Now Amtrak’s recently unveiled Gateway Tunnel Project could send more trains along the same route, if funding is secured and the project is made viable.
On Monday, Feb. 7, Amtrak, the national passenger railroad corporation headquartered in Washington, D.C., announced at a press conference that it was “proposing” to spend $50 million on preliminary engineering and design for two new rail tunnels from New Jersey to New York City. Co-hosting the press conference were U.S. Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez.
“It’s an intriguing situation.” – Nicholas Sacco
Lautenberg spoke of the need for the project.
“When the ARC Tunnel was cancelled, it was clear to me that we couldn’t just throw up our hands and wait years to find another solution,” said Lautenberg. “I immediately went to work looking for new ways to get cars off our roads and expand rail access from New Jersey neighborhoods to New York City office buildings. Amtrak answered the call and is spearheading a project that will help New Jersey commuters and also expand intercity and high-speed rail on the Northeast Corridor.”
Christie had canceled the ARC projects for financial reasons, saying New Jersey was forced to pay for too much of the project and that it would likely go $5 billion over budget. This week, at a stop in Union City, Christie told a crowd that his decision was apparently quite prudent, since Amtrak has stepped in to build a similar project.
The cancelled ARC project called for increasing the number of trains traveling from New Jersey to New York from 23 to 48 per hour, creating 44,000 jobs, direct service for NJ Transit customers from Secaucus’ Frank L. Lautenberg Station, a new station near Penn Station that would be far beneath ground level, and a completion date of 2018.
Amtrak’s preliminary plans call for an 13 additional trains per hour, from 20 to 33, a direct connection to Penn Station, and a completion date of 2020. NJ Transit would not have as direct a connection along the route.
The Amtrak trains would follow the same 9-mile course from Secaucus to New York as the original ARC route.
Amtrak is also calling this project “a critical first step” for the company to bring 220 m.p.h. high-speed rail service to the Northeast Corridor.
Amtrak’s plans also call for a total replacement and expansion of the 100 year-old Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River between Kearny and Secaucus, turning it from a two track movable bridge to a four track high level bridges. This bridge is used by both NJ Transit and Amtrak trains. It would largely facilitate NJ Transit’s additional 13 trains per hour by updating the tunnels. During rush hour are at capacity, Amtrak said, and ridership is expected to double in the next two decades.
Show me the $
Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-Hudson/Bergen) called the project a “glimmer of hope,” but said that he wished he, the Senate’s transportation chairman, would have been notified earlier before finding out through reports in newspapers on Monday.
He said he likes the idea of taking traffic off of Hudson County streets and having trains connect directly to Penn Station, but is still skeptical of how it will be funded and of the 2020 timeline.
“I think when I look in time estimates of jobs being done, I look at Tonnelle Avenue,” said Sacco, referring to a lingering state road project that has tied up traffic. “It was supposed to be done in 2009. I have no faith on estimates of time.”
According to Amtrak, the corporation will take the lead in finding funding from local, regional, and state governments, including New Jersey, Jew York State, New York City, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), as well as other private investors.
Last week Menendez said that this project is on its way to creating “good-paying jobs” and will move people and goods quickly, just as he said about the ARC Tunnel.
Sacco said that if the funding is found, he is hopeful about the project. He also would like to see the land that had been acquired in North Bergen for ARC – now sitting vacant – used in this manner.
“It’s an intriguing situation,” said Sacco.
The announcement was praised by local unions and state Democratic legislators.
Secaucus-based Assemblyman Vincent Prieto issued a press release blaming Christie for canceling the other project.
“Thanks to Gov. Christie, we’ve had a $600 million hole-to-nowhere in my district that symbolized one of the worst decisions any governor has ever made,” he said. “But Sens. Menendez and Lautenberg and Amtrak have put sound economic and transportation policy over sound bites. I laud their leadership and look forward to this plan moving forward. The governor’s decision was disastrous for the people of Hudson County, New Jersey commuters and the 6,000 people who lost their jobs when this project was halted. “But under this alternative plan, we have renewed hope for progress. I realize much work remains, but at least we’ve re-embraced a vision for a stronger future in which we tackle tough problems and keep our state moving forward.”
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.
Bloomberg commits $250K to explore NY-to-Secaucus/Hoboken subway
Ever since news broke last fall that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was considering an old plan to extend the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) No. 7 subway line across the Hudson River into the Garden State, New Jersey residents haven’t been sure whether to take the news with a grain of salt.
Little was known about Bloomberg’s intentions and few people, even within his administration, seemed to be aware of plans, aside from the fact that the train would likely run from Manhattan’s West Side to Hoboken and the Frank R. Lautenberg Rail Station in Secaucus.
But two weeks ago the mayor finally made his intentions known.
Bloomberg’s Economic Development Corporation recently voted to dedicate $250,000 for a study into what it would take to build a transit tunnel under the Hudson River into New Jersey. This feasibility study is expected to take about three months to complete and will be conducted by Parsons Brinckerhoff, an engineering company that had done substantial engineering work on the ARC tunnel project which New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie killed last year due to concerns about the cost.
Money and construction costs will again be a top concern as engineers begin to map out what a No. 7 extension into New Jersey might entail. At present it’s not clear whether this idea could snap up any of the $3 billion the federal government had originally committed to the ARC, or what additional funding might be needed from New York and New Jersey, an obvious concern for Gov. Christie.
And while many New Jersey commuters interviewed by the Reporter last year were intrigued by the idea of a new subway option to Manhattan, Bloomberg might also have a tough time selling New Yorkers on the concept. The MTA is facing a deficit and budget cuts from the state and Staten Island residents have pushed for years for subway expansion to their borough. – E. Assata Wright