By David Cruz
For such a high-level meeting, participants were reluctant to talk about what substance might have been discussed. Sen. Cory Booker, whose portfolio includes a seat on a transportation subcommittee, promised to meet the press after the parlay, but reneged. Only Sen. Bob Menendez took a minute to address the press.
“I have a long list of different questions I wanna raise but the starting point is, can we come to an agreement that one, we need a new trans-hudson tunnel. I can’t believe anyone would disagree on that. And number two, that all the parties who are stakeholders will also be responsible to pony up,” he said.
And that includes the federal government, which has capital grants for infrastructure and environmental grants for pollution mitigation, all of which Menendez says could be applied to a new tunnel project.
“We had the largest federal commitment to the ARC tunnel,” he added. “We’ll have to work to get a significant federal commitment.”
That was a not so subtle dig at Gov. Chris Christie . Christie famously killed the ARC tunnel early in his first term, which many critics say is partly to blame for the terrible transit conditions faced by commuters today. The governor — who had to take time away from his presidential campaign to attend — also declined to speak to us today. So, it’s unknown what was actually discussed at the meeting, but a joint statement released by the parties said:
“The state of New Jersey supports the Gateway project and is committed to developing a framework with the Federal government to begin it. We all recognize that the only way forward is equitable distribution of funding responsibility and the active participation of all parties.”
Since a series of torturous transit delays over the past few weeks laid bare the urgent need for another Hudson River crossing, elected officials have been calling for action. Senate president Steve Sweeney toured the current Amtrak tunnel yesterday and came away with a new appreciation of a bad situation.
“This project needed to start 10 years ago because you have 600,000 people who go through that station every day,” said Sweeney. “What do you think is gonna happen when they start shutting them down. Yesterday, we had chaos because a car caught on fire and a train was delayed. We cannot wait. If we start tomorrow, it’s going to take at least 10 years. The system that is failing now is gonna continue to fail for the next 10 years, regardless.”
That’s one thing participants could agree on. There is little time to waste. And no palatable options if a tunnel has to come off line. In that regard, at least, today’s meeting suggests that political leaders may be feeling that pressure.
Noticeably absent from this meeting was New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose office said this morning that — at this stage of the game — this is still very much a Jersey issue, although participants in this meeting would probably disagree.