By Brenda Flanagan
All aboard, riders of the tunnel rails. Plans to build two new railway corridors under the Hudson River finally lurched into motion last night after power brokers agreed on who’ll pay for the so-called Gateway Project and who’ll run the operation. Feds will split the projected $20 billion cost 50-50 with New York and New Jersey.
“I don’t know how much money that’s going to cost us,” said rider Matt Kersey.
“Hey, that’s something we need. That’s something we need. We need more transportation services,” said rider Tony Moozhayil.
The agreement sets up a special Gateway Development Corporation to oversee the enormous project with members from each state’s Port Authority contingent, plus Amtrak and the U.S. Department of Transportation. The compromise garnered final approval from Governors Christie and Cuomo and U.S. Senators from both states after getting consistently derailed.
“We had a period last Spring that we had a lot of major actors talking at each other, but not with each other,” Senator Cory Booker said.
In August, Booker and Senator Menendez set up a meeting with U.S. Transportation Commissioner Anthony Foxx, NJ Transit and Christie. Cuomo didn’t attend, however it kick started a conversation that hammered out the governance agreement and identified several possible funding sources, including grants and loans.
“The really big news out of this is the fact that we’ve gone from really having no plan, no pathway forward, to now you’ve got these major actors, Governors, Congresspeople, Obama Administration officials who’ve really said this project is important and we’re going to drive this project forward,” Booker said.
“Senator Boooker stepped in, with our governors and Senator Schumer, to get a federal commitment on a $2o billion project, that’s what I’m hearing estimates. $10 billion of it being guaranteed by the feds, and then leading us $10 billion to do the rest. That’s one hell of deal,” said state Senate President Steve Sweeney.
“This is gamesmanship at its worst,” said Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr.
A skeptical Pascrell still blames Christie for delaying the tunnel projects.
“I was on the planning for 15 years. You’re talking to one of the persons that went to every frickin’ meeting in Newark with every official. With Democrats, Republicans, all on board. So, don’t you think I should be a little skeptical?” he said.
Pascrell calls the current tunnels “dangerous.” Amtrak’s pushed for new tunnels for years — pointing out the two current century-old tunnels handle more than 450 trains a day. The tubes sustained serious damage from salt water flooding during Superstorm Sandy causing cracks, fissures and corrosion that need frequent repairs. The Gateway Project wouldn’t be finished until perhaps 2030.
“Now they’re still working on the tracks, and it’s still causing problems. Unexpected delays can really delay me and it’s like, ‘Oh my goodness. I can’t deal with this,” said rider Vasca Sinclair.
Perhaps it’s a good thing riders are accustomed to delays, because this project will take decades to complete. As Booker says: “If we don’t get this done, we could have traffic Armageddon.”