A trans-Hudson tunnel by any other nameBy
It’s been 20 months since Gov. Chris Christie canceled the ARC Tunnel project, and its replacement has yet to move forward. Billed as a better solution than the deep-cavern terminal underneath Macys, the Gateway Tunnel has been put forward as a key element in any high-speed rail plan as well as a solution to the trans-Hudson bottleneck. Yet, we’re no closer today to seeing the Gateway Tunnel materialize than we were a year ago.
Recently, region transit advocates and Gateway Tunnel proponents have started to open a dialogue on the tunnel. No one denies the need for it, but it will take a great deal of political maneuverings to see it realized. “What should be clear is that nobody, nobody is debating that we need this,” Amtrak board member and former Port Authority Chairman Anthony Coscia said.
So what’s the problem? Why has this project gone nowhere? Money seems to be the answer. Steve Strunsky of The Star-Ledger has more on the effort to draw out support for the tunnel:
What is still far from clear, however, is where the money will come from to fund the Gateway project’s estimated $13 billion to $15 billion cost. Estimates for the ARC project were $9.8 billion to $14 billion when Christie bailed out on it in late 2010, saying New Jersey taxpayers would be unfairly stuck with the tab for overruns. He has not ruled out support for the Gateway plan, which he has said would better serve commuters.
So to boost the general public’s awareness of Gateway, stimulate interest among potential participants and help the project pick up steam in Washington, D.C., Trenton and Albany, proponents hosted what they said was the first forum to bring together representatives of the three rail agencies and others likely to share in its benefits and costs.
Coscia’s remarks capped the morning conference, which was held at the Princeton Club in Manhattan. It was hosted by the Regional Plan Association, a planning and transportation think tank, and the General Contractors Association of New York, whose members stand to work on the Gateway project. “Yes, we’re contractors — we build infrastructure,” said the association’s managing director, Denise Richardson. “But we also live in the region.”
For now, as Strunsky notes, a lot of the same people are bringing up the same talking points they’ve been rehashing for nearly two years. Meanwhile, in the halls of power — in D.C. and Trenton and Albany — a resolute nothing has happened. Outside of a token Senate appropriation, no one has taken the lead on this project from a federal standpoint, and Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo seem to be engaged in a battle of who can say less when asked for comment on Gateway’s future. “We’ll see where it goes,” New Jersey’s State Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson said on gaining Christie’s support for the tunnel.
As the days and weeks and months tick away and the ARC Tunnel becomes a distant memory, the Gateway saga reminds me of the point MTA Chairman Joe Lhota made last week. To improve the region’s transportation options and access to the city core, we all will have to learn to work together. Cuomo and Christie will have to join forces, and Washington, DC, will have to be a significant funding partner. That is far, far easier said than done.
At this point, in a major election year, any real progress on Gateway will both be on hold until after November and depend heavily upon the outcomes of the key races. The region’s trans-Hudson rail capacity isn’t going to increase by itself though, and while everyone seems to recognize the need for more tunnels, no one has been willing to do much about it. How utterly disappointing.