|Hudson River rail tunnel project has new name, but same concerns over funding (1162040)|
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Hudson River rail tunnel project has new name, but same concerns over funding
Posted by Gold_12TH on Fri Jun 15 23:29:39 2012
No sooner had Gov. Chris Christie killed the ARC trans-Hudson commuter rail tunnel than a new tunnel project began to take its place in the consciousness of transit officials, planners, contractors and cramped commuters eager for relief.
This time, however, the so-called Gateway project has what proponents say are several advantages over NJ Transitís proposed "Access to the Regionís Core" tunnel, including a catchier name, a federal-level sponsor and direct access to New York Penn Station. ARC critics derided the tunnelís proposed West 34th Street terminus as the stop in "Macyís basement."
"What should be clear is that nobody, nobody is debating that we need this," said Anthony Coscia, an Amtrak board member from New Jersey, who had supported ARC while he served as chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
What is still far from clear, however, is where the money will come from to fund the Gateway projectís 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 publicís 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.
Cosciaís 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, weíre contractors ó we build infrastructure," said the associationís managing director, Denise Richardson. "But we also live in the region."
Like ARC, the Gateway project is intended to double rail capacity into Manhattan from New Jersey by constructing two additional rail tubes, with one set of tracks each, under the Hudson River. Other improvements are also planned to Amtrakís busy Northeast Corridor line between Newark and New York City, and the rail carrier says the tunnel could be completed by 2025.
The area is a bottleneck that hinders Amtrakís plans for intercity high-speed rail service, and bars NJ Transit from easing congestion for commuters. Funding for the tunnel has been limited to a $15 million federal study grant.
Apart from the tunnel, Gateway also includes smaller projects already moving forward: replacement of the Portal Bridge across the Hackensack River, a century-old span prone to breakdowns that can cause widespread delays; and an expansion of Penn Station into the main branch of the New York City Post office to enhance access to platforms, in an area to be named for the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.).
Regional Plan Association president Robert Yaro told conference attendees 90 percent of commuter rail passenger growth into New York City in the past two decades has come from New Jersey, when the number of commuters rose from 228,455 in 1990 to 303,656 in 2009.
The conference included separate discussions focusing on components of the Gateway project, its costs and benefits, and how to pay for it. Experts including Tom Rousakis of Goldman Sachs said the tunnel project could attract private investment and might even lend itself to a public-private partnership.
But they stressed the need for strong support by the governors of New York and New Jersey, and some kind of funding pledge from the federal government to spark state and private-sector commitments.
ARCís cost was supposed to have been shared by New Jersey, the federal Department of Transportation and the Port Authority. In addition to the cost to New Jersey, Christie criticized the projectís lack of access to Penn Station in New York.
State Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson said there were several pressing matters on the governorís agenda, including the state budget, but he said he would be fully briefed on Gateway.
"Weíll see where it goes," Simpson said.