Archive for Gateway Tunnel
It has been particularly difficult of late to ignore the mounting problems with the Northeast’s vital rail system. After a week of extensive delays plaguing trains attempting to cross the Hudson River and a weekend of political grandstanding from Gov. Chris Christie, The Times ran a big front-page article on the aging rail infrastructure. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, to prove the point, a brief power outage in Amtrak’s Manhattan-bound tube led to delays as trains had to be single-tracked into and out of Penn Station for a brief period of time. In other words, the need for some sort of action on a trans-Hudson tunnel has never been more obvious.
Enter Anthony Foxx, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. In the long wake of Christie’s decision to cancel ARC and as New York and New Jersey have played a game of political chicken over formulating and funding plans for a new trans-Hudson Tunnel, Foxx has emerged as more critical voice on the process. At a conference last week, he called a new tunnel “the most important project in the country right now that’s not happening” and called further inaction “almost criminal.” Now he wants the region’s leaders to find a way forward, but it will all boil down to one key concern: money.
Earlier this week, Foxx formally requested a meeting amongst the feds, Christie and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to plan a new tunnel. The Times has a copy of the letter request, and in it, Foxx noted that the current administration “remain[s] committed to advancing needed repairs and replacements” for a new rail tunnel. Discussing the fed’s support for Amtrak’s Gateway tunnel and calling “the condition of the trans-Hudson tunnels…a major threat to the region,” Foxx wrote:
We are willing once again to explore Federal financial assistance. The Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak have been in discussions about possible federal financing tools that could get the project started, but the project will not become a reality without your active participation and willingness to prioritize it. Neither Amtrak nor your individual States, acting alone, can replace these tunnels. It will take all of us working together.
Foxx’s letter comes on the heels of a similar missive directed toward the Secretary’s office concerning state inaction from New York and New Jersey, and the request from the feds has so far received a response from the region that straddles the border between a lukewarm embrace and outright hostility. Christie stated that he and Cuomo would discuss with Foxx “if we can have a real conversation about how this is going to be funded and the equity for both states and the people of the region.” But separately, the Port Authority, which wasn’t an addressee of Foxx’s letter, responded harshly to the overtures: WNYC reported:
On Tuesday it was the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which the governors control in a shaky power-sharing arrangement, wrote back, even though he was not addressed in the original letter…The letter by Port Authority Chairman John Degnan letter was testy, at one point noting that the U.S. transportation secretary had failed to accept the Port Authority’s invitation to speak at a special transportation summit in May that it co-hosted. (Foxx sent his undersecretary, Peter Rogoff, instead.)
At another point, Degnan wrote, “If discussions aimed at furthering this project are to be fruitful, we need to better understand whether adequate funding can now be made available to move this project forward.” Degnan also said the Port Authority “would obviously” need the federal government to expedite the environmental review process to get the project done quickly.
The PA, an important stakeholder in this process, seems to want a guarantee from the feds that they’ll chip in more than $3 billion — the supposed cap on their ARC Tunnel contributions — for Gateway or any replacement trans-Hudson Tunnels. It seems evident then that while Christie himself accepted Foxx’s overtures, the Port Authority letter at the least carries with it his imprimatur and Christie’s constant complains, accurate or not, that grew out of his decision to cancel the ARC Tunnel. The politics of the Port Authority certainly allow a governor to send one message while his underlings send another, and that’s what’s happening here.
So where does this go from here? As always, it’s about the money. In an extensive piece of news analysis, Herb Jackson of The Record delves into the key financial questions involving the two northeast states and the federal government. New Jersey’s move to shift ARC dollar and nearly empty its state transportation fund following the tunnel is under investigation by both the SEC and Manhattan DA, and it’s not clear, short of raising the gas tax, where Garden State money would come from. Amtrak is hoping Congress will reform its economics to allow it to invest Northeast Corridor profits in its own capital plan, and New York State is coming to grips with the MTA’s own spending request at the same time the tunnel plan is percolating.
It’s a game of political intrigue and one without an obvious end. Yet, as Foxx has said, the region can’t wait much longer. It’s going to take true leadership and some economic sacrifices to see this project through. Can Cuomo and Christie meet the feds on this one? The region’s future and their legacies may depend on it.
There is a question hovering around Amtrak’s Hudson River tunnels that no one really wants to ask. Faced with the wake-up call that was Superstorm Sandy and the lingering fallout from Gov. Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC Tunnel, will we act on additional trans-Hudson capacity before it’s too late? Will we even know when it’s almost too late to act? A rational society would have started work on Gateway or a similar project three years ago, but welcome to America in 2015, where only Amtrak seems to be driving forward with eye on a potentially calamitous future.
The backstory is simple: Even before Sandy, Amtrak’s tunnels were nearing the end of their life. The North River Tunnels opened for passenger service in 1910, and the need to supplement them so top-to-bottom overhaul doesn’t severely disrupt Northeast Corridor travel has been a pressing concern for a while. The ARC Tunnel plan was supposed to lighten the load so that most New Jersey Transit traffic would shift out of Amtrak’s tunnels. A few years after Christie’s move, Sandy dumped a load of corrosive saltwater into the tunnels, thus pushing them ever closer to A Problem.
What that Problem — with a capital P — may be is still open for debate. Barring a total catastrophe, the solution will likely require shutting down one of the two tubes for some period of time, thus reducing trans-Hudson capacity from 24 trains per hour to around six. That’s a Problem, and even the threat of such a future — which isn’t exactly too hard to imagine — should spur action.
Lately, it has in fact spurred some action but from an unlikely source. Amtrak is taking the charge, and the national rail agency is using every ounce of political support it can muster to push through Gateway. As a recent piece in Crain’s New York detailed, the agency’s leaders think they just might be able to succeed. Andy Hawkins had more on Amtrak’s Chair Anthony Coscia’s attempts to drag this project from an idea to reality. The story begins with Coscia stating, “We’re doing it” and goes from there:
Mr. Coscia said Amtrak could begin the environmental review process this fall, and has already spent about $300 million on preparatory work and land acquisition, even though the estimated $15 billion needed for the larger Gateway project, which includes the tunnel, has not been lined up.
“We’re taking precious resources and spending it on a project we don’t have all the money to build,” he said. “It’s either a very silly decision or a very critical one.”
He’s betting on the latter. By his reckoning, a tunnel has to be built sooner or later, and sooner is better. The two heavy-rail tunnels connecting New Jersey and New York are more than 100 years old. and are showing their age. Twenty-four trains pass through the tunnels each hour—20 from New Jersey Transit, four from Amtrak—and officials predict that within 20 years, one or both tunnels will need to be closed for repairs. That would reduce capacity to six trains per hour, because trains traveling in opposite directions would need to wait for the lone remaining tunnel to clear…
Mr. Coscia said Amtrak has sketched out a potential financing package that includes federal funds, infrastructure bonds and Amtrak’s own cash. He said it would premature to discuss who might contribute what. However, the project’s numerous stakeholders can be expected to chip in. They include the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New Jersey Transit, New York City, the states of New York and New Jersey, the federal government and of course Amtrak.
As Hawkins notes in his article, Gateway is both incredibly necessary and incredibly daunting. It would increase capacity across the Hudson River at a time when transit absolutely must expand to support growing the East Coast, and without Gateway, the worst-case scenario is pretty bad. Meanwhile, Amtrak has to scope the project and assess the costs of land acquisition on both sides of the river as well as a new or expanded terminal in Manhattan and plan for potential connections eastward and northward.
As we’ve seen, massive transit projects in the East Coast happen in half-decades (or longer) rather than in any sane timeline, and Gateway will be no exception. At a time of major political divides in Congress, Amtrak needs all the support it can get. It’s promising that the agency is going out on a limb to spend money today for something it may not be able to build tomorrow. At least they’re thinking about the future when few other agencies, both local and national, are. Can they deliver? It, of course, remains to be seen, but it’s not particularly hyperbolic to state that New York’s economic future may depend on it.
For the past few years, I’ve argued that big-ticket transportation items in New York City see the light of day only when they have a political champion lined up to fight for dollars. Senator Schumer delivered money for the first phase of the Second Ave. Subway; Mayor Bloomberg ushered in the 7 line extension; for better or worse, Al D’Amato shoulders the thanks (and blame) for East Side Access; and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is responsible for the mysteriously funded New New York Bridge. Without these politicians fighting for their projects, construction wouldn’t have begun, and money wouldn’t have flowed.
A few years ago, a trans-Hudson rail tunnel — with its flaws and all — had a champion in then-New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, but as we know, his successor has been no friend to transit. Now, with the Hudson River Tunnels suffering from damage inflicted by Sandy’s floodwaters and the general limitations of a century’s-old piece of infrastructure, the need for a replacement or a additional tunnels has never been greater and the silence from various leaders has never been so deafening.
As the Hudson Yards development kicks into gear, provisioning is in place for a future trans-Hudson tunnel, and Amtrak has amorphous and unfunded plans to build the Gateway Tunnel as part of a Northeast Corridor high-speed rail plan that you could be forgiven for thinking is a pie-in-the-sky idea. But the trans-Hudson tunnel is just crying out for someone to take the lead. In fact, from recent reports, it sounds as though the feds want to give money to this project, but no one is asking with enough specificity to satisfy grant requirements.
Andrew Tangel of The Wall Street Journal has the story:
A top federal transportation official on Thursday expressed support for digging new passenger rail tunnels under the Hudson River, as the current aging ones irk commuters with delays between New York and New Jersey. But Peter Rogoff, the U.S. undersecretary of transportation for policy, cited two major hurdles in jump-starting a tunnel project: money and coordination among various government agencies. “We would like to get on with it, but we are going to need funding growth to be able to address those kinds of projects,” Mr. Rogoff said.
Mr. Rogoff, who was in New York City for a meeting Thursday of the region’s top transportation officials, touted the Obama administration’s fiscal year 2016 proposed budget that calls for billions of dollars of additional funding for transportation projects across the country. Amtrak’s proposed “Gateway” project, which includes the tunnels and other major upgrades, is estimated to cost $15 billion to $20 billion, a steep price tag in an era of tight budgets. “For a project of this size and scope, you need a game-changing pot of funding specifically for construction,” Mr. Rogoff said.
Mr. Rogoff pointed to the president’s proposed budget, which includes about $50 billion in funding over six years that could potentially fund a tunnel project. Top transportation officials in New York and New Jersey have been holding informal meetings about the Amtrak project in recent months. The talks have included Amtrak officials, and Mr. Rogoff has said federal transportation officials have also taken part…“This project is not currently funded because we only get to the point of requesting those construction dollars when we have a fully baked project and the funding partners have all of their contributions nailed down,” Mr. Rogoff said following his speech at a meeting of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council. “Well, we don’t have nailed-down contributions from either New York or New Jersey on funding their portion of the construction, so we wouldn’t put it in our budget it until we did.”
I’m guilty here of excerpting the key parts of the whole story, and I don’t have too much more to add. So I’ll wrap quickly: The trans-Hudson tunnel badly needs and should have a champion today, tomorrow, yesterday. It’s need is so blindingly obvious, and the region will practically collapse if anything even more serious happens to Amtrak’s current tunnels. That this hasn’t happened when the feds are basically throwing New York and New Jersey in the form of billions of dollars is dismaying. The short-term and long-term futures depend on it; who will step up and take on the challenge?
Nearly two years after the storm, it’s easy to consign the floodwaters that consumed New York’s underground infrastructure as Sandy rolled in to memory. Thanks to the perfect storm and tidal conditions, nearly every tunnel into and out of Manhattan suffered from saltwater flooding, and as we’ve seen with the MTA, work to repair the damage has been time-consuming and costly. Even as the G and R train tunnels have reopened, eight other subway tunnels will require some degree or remediation and repair work.
We’ve heard over the years that Amtrak’s tunnels suffered similar fates. Already nearing the end of their useful lives, the saltwater corrosion has sped up the process, and now the rail provider is warning that very disruptive repairs are required to maintain and rebuild the tunnels. In a PDF statement, Amtrak announced that a new engineering report has recommended a phased approach to rebuilding the tunnels that involve taking individual tubes “out of service for extended periods.” The agency had more to say:
Superstorm Sandy created a storm surge that resulted in sea water inundating both tubes of the Hudson River tunnel and two of the four tubes of the East River tunnel. The report found no evidence that the tunnel linings themselves are unsound, but it did find that chlorides and sulfates caused, and are continuing to cause, significant damage to key tunnel components such as the bench walls and track systems as well as the signal, electrical and mechanical systems.
The tunnels are safe for passenger train operations. Amtrak has a robust tunnel inspection program, conducts regular maintenance work and will be performing interim work as needed. However, a permanent fix is required soon so that the tunnels remain available for long- term use by the traveling public. Amtrak engineers are working with expert consultants on designs to rehabilitate the two damaged tubes of the East River tunnel and will coordinate with other agencies to minimize impacts to train service and other projects.
Now, the coverage of this announcement has been rightly dire. The Times, The Journal and Capital New York all ran stories about how problematic service could become. To perform even basic remediation work, which could begin in late 2015, Amtrak needs to close one of the East River Tubes, which could cause a reduction in Amtrak, LIRR and NJ Transit service by around 25 percent. If and when Amtrak has to close one of the Hudson River Tubes, service could fall by as much as 75 percent.
The real problem is that the work that must go on — full saltwater remediation — can’t and won’t happen, Amtrak says, until another Hudson River crossing is built. In a way, this engineering report gives Amtrak another platform upon which to base their argument for the Gateway Tunnel, but as Amtrak officials have noted, it’s likely to be another decade before Gateway is open. That timeline is of course contingent upon funding, and right now, the money isn’t there. One way or another, Amtrak anticipates only approximately 20 years of life left in their Hudson River tunnels.
This news has raised the spectre of the ARC Tunnel, and in a twist of the knife, to The Journal, a spokesman for Chris Christie stated that the New Jersey Governor “has always recognized the need for additional trans-Hudson transit capacity.” For now, Amtrak is moving forward on design and planning while awaiting the money. “Amtrak,” the agency promised, “will ensure the safety of all passengers and balance efforts to minimize service impacts while also advancing as soon as possible the permanent fix needed for the long-term reliability of the tunnels for train service to Penn Station, New York.”
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over three and a half years since New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie unilaterally canceled the ARC Tunnel. Yet, it’s a decision that keeps coming back to haunt the entire region. Amtrak has proposed picking up the slack with their Gateway Tunnel, but that’s decades off. Now, questions have emerged concerning the region’s ability to cope with aging infrastructure and no replacement plans in place.
The latest comes to us from Amtrak. As the two Hudson River tunnels creep up there in years, the national rail agency has warned that age will become a major issue sooner rather than later. Amtrak’s chief put their life expectancy at “less than 20 years” and urged everyone involved to start funding — and then building — Gateway.
Dana Rubinstein had more:
The end may be near for the New York region’s cross-harbor rail tunnels, with no good alternative in sight. “I’m being told we got something less than 20 years before we have to shut one or two down,” said Amtrak C.E.O. Joseph Boardman at the Regional Plan Association’s conference last week at the Waldorf Astoria. “Something less than 20. I don’t know if that something less than 20 is seven, or some other number. But to build two new ones, you’re talking seven to nine years to deliver, if we all decided today that we could do it.”
Tom Wright, the Regional Plan Association’s executive director, described Boardman’s remarks as “a big shock.” “I’ve been hearing abstractly people at Amtrak and other people at New Jersey Transit say for years the tunnels are over 100 years old and we have to be worried about them,” he said. “To actually have Joe put something concrete on the table, less than 20 years … Within my office, there was a level of, ‘Wow, this is really serious.’”
In addition to age, as Rubinstein notes, Sandy damage is going to play a big role in this tale. The Amtrak tunnels, by some accounts, suffered approximately half a billion dollars in damage during the storm surge, but unlike, say, the Montague St. Tunnel, Amtrak can’t just take one of their cross-Hudson out of service for a few months to make repairs. That would reduce capacity from 24 trains per hour to just six, and as Amtrak owns them, the people who would suffer the most from single-tracking would be New Jersey Transit riders. Thus, it all comes back to ARC as without ARC, New Jersey Transit is beholden to Amtrak’s whims.
An Amtrak spokesman later tried to walk back Boardman’s comments. “As you know the Hudson River Tunnels are more than 100 years old and were filled with salt water during Super Storm Sandy, which can be very corrosive,” Craig Schultz said. “Amtrak is working with an expert to assess the condition of the tunnel structures since the storm, and that work is ongoing. I think the point Mr. Boardman was making in his comments at the RPA Assembly is that damage from Sandy accelerated what was already an urgent need for additional tunnel capacity between New York and New Jersey. We expect that the tunnels are going to need major rehabilitation, which can only happen with prolonged service outages permitted by a new tunnel.”
So where do we go from here? As with all of these major infrastructure projects, Gateway needs a champion, and right now, it doesn’t have one. It needs money, and right now, it doesn’t have it. Will we wait to fund it until it’s too late or will someone come to their senses before we have to live in an era when six trains per hour can cross the Hudson River? The clock is ticking.
With Sandy money flowing New York City’s way, Senator Chuck Schumer was able to wrangle enough dollars earlier this year to launch part of the Gateway Tunnel. Specifically, the state’s senior senator secured the $185 million needed to preserve Gateway’s right-of-way under the Hudson Yards development under the rubric of flood prevention. Yesterday, officials gathered to celebrate the ground-breaking of this monumental concrete box that may, years and billions of dollars in the future, host a new trans-Hudson train tunnel for Amtrak.
“The value of the work on this concrete casing cannot be underestimated as it preserves a possible pathway for new tunnels designed to increase the reliability and capacity for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit’s operations and will step up the resiliency of the rail system against severe weather events like Super Storm Sandy,” Amtrak Chairman Tony Coscia said.
This current construction effort is a two-year project to build a casing between 10th and 11th Avenues in order to save what Amtrak called a “possible right-of-way” for two new tunnels into Penn Station. It is slated to be completed in October of 2015. When or if Gateway and the corresponding Moynihan Station plan will ever see the light of day remains to be seen.
Interestingly, the Sandy part of this picture could spur Amtrak and the feds to action though. As the rail agency detailed in its press release, the storm surge from Sandy flooded four of the six tunnels under the Hudson and East Rivers. This is the first time in their 103-year history that the tunnels were inundated, and nearly 600,000 daily riders on Amtrak and New Jersey Transit saw their commutes disrupted. The casing, wide enough for a two-track train tunnel, will be flood-proof, though Amtrak’s materials do not explain how.
Before Gateway can become a reality, Amtrak will have to replace the Portal Bridge and extend the concrete casing to the west to 12th Avenue, but the region’s politicians remain ever hopeful. “Today’s groundbreaking is about so much more than making way for the Amtrak Gateway tunnels,” New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez said. “It’s about celebrating a $185 million investment in our future, in keeping our competitive edge in the New Jersey-New York area, in our preparedness against severe weather events like Super Storm Sandy. We can’t be satisfied with a 19th century infrastructure in a 21st century world and expect to stay competitive in a high-tech, fast-paced, global economy. For the growth of the entire region, it’s critical that we invest in new rail tunnels across the Hudson.”
Whether any of us live to see Amtrak’s Gateway Tunnel become a reality remains to be seen, but it has a few champions in Washington and an assist from Superstorm Sandy. Senator Chuck Schumer, who has recently adopted the cause, announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation will deliver the $185 million Amtrak has requested to preserve space in the Hudson Yards area for two more Hudson River rail tunnels. The money is part of the Sandy relief and fortification funds.
Specifically, the money will go toward an 800-foot-long tunnel box between 10th and 11th Avenues that will carve out the right-of-way for a pair of flood-resistant rail tubes. Without his money, Related Companies’ construction at the Hudson Yards would have moved forward blocking the opportunity to build Gateway for the foreseeable future. Last week, though, Amtrak, the LIRR and Related Companies reached an agreement on the construction of the tunnel box, and the federal dollars assure progress will go forward, inch by inch.
“When Sandy flooded our tunnels it exposed a fatal flaw in our already maxed-out transit infrastructure and demonstrated beyond a doubt we needed a new flood-resistant train-tunnel into and out of Manhattan. This project will build the gate in the ‘Gateway’ tunnel and secures the future of rail for New York City and all of the Northeast Corridor, making our rail infrastructure more efficient and much more flood resistant from storms like Sandy,” Schumer said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is the first step of a long-term mitigation investment in New York. I am pleased that Secretary LaHood will award this much-needed funding to preserve a path for new train tunnels into Manhattan.”
Amtrak’s Gateway tunnel and its accompanying plans for high-speed rail on the Northeast Corridor are no sure thing. The costs — estimated last year at $125 billion — are astronomical, and no funding is in place. Yet, the rail provider seems intent on delivering at least the Gateway Tunnel to improve train service through New York City, and with work beginning on the Hudson Yards development, it must act soon to preserve space.
To that end, Amtrak has unveiled plans to consruct a tunnel box in the Hudson Yards space for future tunneling. “The point is we need to protect this alignment,” Petra Todorovich Messick said earlier this week. “This is sort of the last viable connection to bring tunnels under the Hudson River and connect them directly to Penn Station.”
According to other reports, construction will start in the fall with Related Cos. taking the contracting lead. A federal grant of $150 million will pay for the placeholder starter tunnels. Overall, Gateway is estimated to cost $15 billion and could be ready for revenue service by 2025 if funding is put in place. It may still be a longshot, but it’s inching closer to reality. Saving the space now could go a long way toward pushing Gateway forward.
Six years ago, when the Democrats rode a mid-term election sweep into control of the House and Senate. At the time, Chuck Schumer, New York’s then and current senior senator, pledged infrastructure dollars for New York State, and thus, the Second Ave. Subway — and this site — were born.
Over the past six years, a lot has changed, and a lot has stayed the same. We’ve seen megaprojects come and go on and on; we’ve seen the promise of a trans-Hudson rail crossing rise and fall. It’s still a struggle to secure federal (or state) dollars for transit projects, and Schumer is still in the Senate trying to throw his weight around. This time around, he has his eyes on the Gateway Tunnel, an Amtrak project that would be part of a northeast high-speed rail network and could improve train service through New York City.
On Friday, Schumer announced his intentions to push through the Gateway Tunnel with an eye toward a possible groundbreaking as early as 2013. Crain’s New York had more on Schumer’s efforts and how the Hudson Yards development is a motivating factor:
Mr. Schumer said with enough federal funding and all the relevant players on board, the project could break ground as early as the end of 2013. Usually it takes years before work can begin on such a complex, multi-billion dollar effort. “It’s a truly significant project,” Mr. Schumer said at a breakfast forum in midtown Manhattan sponsored by the New York Building Congress. “It’s the kind of big idea that could shape the way New York City looks decades from now.”
Two rail tunnels connect New Jersey and New York, and both are more than 100 years old. The Gateway project was unveiled in February 2011, after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, citing potential cost overruns, killed the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project, which was to include a train tunnel under the Hudson. Congress approved an initial $15 million for Gateway in November 2011 and Mr. Schumer said an additional $20 million was close to being secured. The total project is expected to cost $13-$15 billion and will not be completed before 2020.
A new urgency has been brought to the project, Mr. Schumer said, since Amtrak’s engineers determined that the best place to construct Gateway (which would have one tunnel in each direction) was directly under the Hudson Yards development on Manhattan’s West Side. The Related Companies is expected to break ground on the massive, mixed-use project late this year. Both Related and Long Island Rail Road, the right-of-way property owners underneath Hudson Yards, are supportive of Gateway, he said. “That means we need to build these tunnels now,” the senior senator said. “We can’t wait for the rest of the project to be formulated or nothing will happen.”
There a few items of note happening here. First, Schumer has significant weight in Washington and the ability to push through a project of this magnitude. If the tunnel can be built now and maintained as both an active rail line and a future provision for high-speed rail, then all the better. We need that new rail crossing sooner rather than later.
Second, someone other than a New Jersey representative or politician is finally making noises about a trans-Hudson tunnel. When the ARC Tunnel met its end, New Yorkers were by and large silent. This was New Jersey’s project, and they let New Jersey hash out the fallout. Now, with Amtrak a national — or at least a regional — concern, politicians from both sides of the Hudson can come together to support such a tunnel. It would have been better to pursue such a path originally, but better late than never. Now, we’ll have to see if this tunnel can survive to see the light of day unlike its ARC Tunnel cousin.
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.