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?