Obama Administration Pushes New Hudson Rail Tunnel

raylahood Obama Administration Pushes New Hudson Rail Tunnel

The Obama administration likes rail tunnels.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday morning urged progress on the pair of new rail tunnels planned for under the Hudson, suggesting a large commitment of funds would come from the federal government at a later date for the $8.7 billion job.

The project—known now by three separate acronyms: ARC (Access to the Region’s Core), THE (Trans Hudson Express) and MTT (Mass Transit Tunnel)—would double the commuter rail capacity to New Jersey, building a completely new station a block north of Penn Station.

“I’m recommending that the area’s other landmark transportation project, ARC—Access to the Region’s Core—be permitted to move ahead with initial construction activity in advance of a major commitment of federal funds,” Mr. LaHood said at a breakfast hosted by the Association for a Better New York. “Almost from the very first day that I was considered for nomination by the Senate, your senators from both states talked to me about this important project.”

Since necessary approvals were delivered earlier this year, New Jersey Transit has been preparing for construction, and Mr. LaHood said the agency would award its first construction contract for the project Wednesday. The agency now is moving forward on the project without $3 billion in funding secured from the federal government—something of a risk in projects of this size—though some federal funds have begun to trickle in.

The project’s most glaring flaw is its lack of connection to the existing rail lines under Manhattan, a sore point that has incensed some transit advocacy groups. Thus, the new project does wonders for New Jersey Transit, but does little for Amtrak, which also says it needs more capacity at Penn Station and in the tunnels under the Hudson River. Given that Amtrak cannot use the new rail tunnels without a connector, officials there have said they may need to build yet another rail tunnel under the Hudson. The federal government and New Jersey Transit said a connection between ARC and the existing lines would cost billions more than is available.

After the event, I asked Mr. LaHood about the timing on the federal highway reauthorization that would fund highway transportation and public transit projects for the next decade, set to expire later this year. The House has been rapidly moving forward on a bill, which could top $400 billion, though some in the Senate have suggested it might not get taken up by that chamber until 2010.

Mr. LaHood said the timing would be left up to Congress.

“I’m not in the prediction business,” he said. “We’re going to work with Congress with whatever time frames there are. I know the House is going to move pretty quickly, and we’ll be there with them to help shape the bill.”

ebrown@observer.com