Amtrak, NJ Senators Announce Plans for “New” Tunnel
Well, that didn’t take long. Just three months after Governor Chris Christie announced he was terminating the ARC tunnel project, another idea has emerged to fill the void left by that decision. U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg joined officials from Amtrak today at Newark Penn Station to announce a proposed joint Amtrak/NJ Transit tunnel, dubbed “Gateway,” which calls for two new tunnels under the Hudson River to provide additional capacity for both Amtrak and NJ Transit.
The tunnels would follow the same footprint as the ill-fated ARC tunnels, and would arrive at “Penn South,” an adjunct to the existing station between 30th and 31st streets in Manhattan. The project would provide additional rush-hour capacity to NJ Transit (though not as much as ARC), but not a one-seat ride to riders of the Bergen and Main lines, at least not initially.
The problem of trans-Hudson rail capacity did not go away when the ARC tunnel did. The existing commuter rail tunnel is at capacity, and rail ridership is expected to double in the next 20 years. So any proposal to add additional space deserves serious consideration. Still, there are many major questions about this plan that will need to be answered before it moves forward and, even then, the permitting, design and review process could take many years, depending on how much of the ARC documentation can be re-purposed for this new project.
Obviously, with an estimated price tag of $13.5 billion, the question of who will pay for this project is paramount. Its backers are clearly hoping the federal government will play a big role, potentially as part of a larger scheme to bring high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor. This may be a difficult proposition, however, as the incoming House majority has set its sights on rail funding, particularly high-speed rail, as part of its pledge to cut spending.
Another major question is whether NJ Transit, or the governor, will support the project. It does not appear that NJ Transit was involved in the planning of this gateway proposal. Finally, today’s announcement comes less than a week after the Bloomberg administration announced it would spend $250,000 to study the idea of extending the No 7. subway line to Secaucus — and the relationship between that idea and today’s proposal will need to be sorted out.
Still, today’s announcement was an encouraging first step toward reviving the possibility of improved trans-Hudson capacity, and indicates a significant shift in attitude on the part of Amtrak, which was little more than a spectator during the ARC tunnel debate. Whether Amtrak’s involvement this time around will lead to a different result remains to be seen.