March 16, 2015
By Marc Bussanich
Newark, NJ—Just before the start of the chaotic 2014 Thanksgiving Day Holiday travel period, New Jersey’s Senate President called for the construction of a new passenger rail tunnel connecting New Jersey to Manhattan to alleviate growing congestion along the corridor. He reiterated that call again while attending a rally to show support for Rutgers faculty and staff on Tuesday.
Back in 2010, New Jersey’s governor Chris Christie cancelled the Access to the Region’s Core project that would have expanded train capacity with the construction of a new tunnel because he claimed that the state couldn’t afford any overrun costs and that New York should equally pay for the project.
Soon after he cancelled ARC, the late Senator Frank Lautenberg announced with Amtrak the Gateway Program that also calls for a new rail tunnel, along with an expanded Penn Station and a new Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River. But Congress, nor New York and New Jersey, have allocated funds for the project, although Amtrak did receive $185 million in Hurricane Sandy funds to build a right-of-way under the gigantic Hudson Yards development in anticipation of a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel.
Senate President Steve Sweeney, a former ironworker who still retains membership with the international ironworkers union in Washington, D.C., said in the accompanying video that both New York and New Jersey could fund a new tunnel with local funds.
“We need the tunnel for the economy of this state. The [current] tunnel is in really bad shape, but there’s a way to get the funding. One, the Port Authority [of New York and New Jersey] can get out of the real estate business and direct those assets towards a new tunnel. Second, there’s a way to capture [revenue] from [possible] gaming in North Jersey to fund a tunnel,” said Sweeney. “So, there’s a way to do it but we have to do it now because the economy of New Jersey is so linked to New York City. We can’t afford not to let people get back and forth. One tunnel being shut down is going to be a nightmare of congestion and it’s going to hurt the economy by hundreds of millions of dollars per year, if not billions.”
President Obama proposed in February a six-year, $478 billion transportation bill as part of his $4 trillion 2016 budget. While Senator Sweeney hopes there’s a bi-partisan federal agreement for transportation funding, he still believes a new tunnel can be built with New York and New Jersey funds.
“I’d be thrilled to see something bi-partisan coming out of D.C. period. If there’s a funding source for transportation, that’s wonderful. But there are also local obligations. Regardless, we have to look at how we find funding in New Jersey and New York to fund that tunnel,” Sweeney said.