TRENTON – Taking an approaching Thanksgiving weekend as an opportunity to draw attention to the cause, Senate President Steve Sweeney today called for the construction of a new tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York City under the Hudson River, arguing that impending closures of existing tunnels for repair could cripple the region’s transportation network.
“Thanksgiving weekend is the heaviest travel season of the year so it highlights the deteriorating conditions of the transportation infrastructure,” said Sweeney, who’s made repairing the state’s ailing infrastructure and replenishing a depleted Transportation Trust Fund one of his primary political goals this year as he prepares a gubernatorial run in 2017. “The Amtrak rail tunnels that connect New Jersey and New York City are experiencing the same disrepair as the roads and bridges throughout the state.”
Built in 1910, Sweeney said the current tunnels will turn 104 years old on Thursday. Last month, Amtrak announced that they will have to sharply curtail use of those tunnels for at least a year in order to repair damage caused by Hurricane Sandy — closures that could affect train service for tens of thousands of commuters.
“The entire Northeast Corridor Rail Line and all the rail lines in northern New Jersey skinny down to a single track in and a single track out under the Hudson River,” Sweeney said. “Built when William Howard Taft was President, these tracks handle 45 million passenger trips a year so problems can create the ultimate bottleneck for regional transportation.”
But Sweeney’s comments would seem to run counter to New Jersey’s own chief executive on the issue, who scrapped a move to expand rail capacity between New Jersey and midtown Manhattan with the $8.7 billion dollar Access to the Region’s Core, or ARC tunnel, in October 2010. Gov. Chris Christie, early in his first term, denied that project, arguing that it would bring with it an “unexcitable level of risk and cost that was being asked to be borne by the taxpayers of the state of New Jersey.”
In response, Amtrak proposed the “Gateway Tunnel” project in February 2011, which includes building two new Hudson River tunnels to Penn station, four tracks through the New Jersey Meadowlands, replacement of the trouble prone 100-year-old Portal Bridge and construction of a New York Penn Station south.
Amtrak officials say a plan to build the “Gateway” tunnel in advance of the shutdown of the existing facilities would prevent a transportation catastrophe, though the price tag of the project is still unclear.
Sweeney said Governor Christie, Congress, the Port Authority, Amtrak and transportation officials should work together to move quickly to replace the aging trans-Hudson tunnels.
“The widening of the New Jersey Turnpike between exits 9 and 6 has been a major success that has made a real difference for motorists,” said Senator Sweeney. “It shows that smart investments in transportation will create jobs and improve the infrastructure. It is an example of what we can and should be doing.”
On Monday, the state’s new Department of Transportation Commissioner, Jamie Fox, appointed by Gov. Christie to the post earlier this year, told a symposium crowd assembled for the Newark Regional Business Partnership that New Jersey needs new rail tunnels under the Hudson River.
“We need to get a tunnel under that river,” Fox said. “It’s expensive. It’s complicated. But it must be done.”