Gateway Development Corporation Trustee Jerry Zaro says it’s not just the 200,000 daily commuters who travel the crumbling, century-old train tunnel under the Hudson River that are playing transit roulette. He says a new report puts painful numbers on how a tunnel failure could catastrophically impact homeowners, tax rates and town budgets across the entire region.
“I think many people thought, ‘Well, this is a problem for the train commuters.’ What the RPA report has now done, is it’s told us that if the tunnel sneezes, we all catch cold,” Zaro said.
If even one tube on the tunnel fails and repairs close the other tube intermittently, the Regional Plan Association report predicts disastrous results across the board. Thirty-eight thousand rail riders would need to find another way to work and almost a quarter million drivers would face longer commutes. But local property values would tank too — a cumulative loss of $22 billion.
“Home values are affected by how easily you can get to work from where you live. If you take away NJ Transit service or make it much less frequent and reliable, that starts to lower the home values of homes that are within a couple of miles of a NJ Transit station,” said Chris Jones, senior vice president and chief planner at the Regional Plan Association.
That would strip $4.6 billion from local property taxes, or roughly 4 percent of New Jersey property tax revenue. It’s money that supports schools, fire and police departments and municipal services.
“That means every homeowner in this area, their home drops $14,000 to $15,000. We’re talking about a loss of $16 billion in economic activity in this region over four years,” Zaro said.
New Jersey, New York and the Port Authority agreed to split half the $13 billion cost to build a new tunnel, and the federal government under former President Barack Obama had offered to pay the other half. Donald Trump canceled those plans and downgraded the project’s priority status. Local politicians, including Gov. Phil Murphy, have met with Trump about the tunnel.
“We had a quick exchange again yesterday and we each think it makes sense to sit down. So I don’t have a firm answer to that question, but it was a good exchange and it’s the only thing — other than pleasantries — that I speak to the president about. My view is we need to have a rifle shot, what’s the most important thing, right now, for us?” Murphy said at an unrelated event earlier in the week.
The irony? Jersey had a chance to build the so-called ARC train tunnel, but former Gov. Chris Christie killed the project in 2010. Doug Steinhardt, the chair of New Jersey’s Republican State Committee, claims the current hyperpartisan politics won’t help gain Trump’s approval.
“I think one of the more difficult ways to get him to come to the table is launching lawsuit after lawsuit at him and thinking that that’s somehow going to compel him to come back in good faith and want to sit down and talk to anybody,” said Steinhardt.
Transit officials call the current situation a disaster happening in slow motion and say the political tunnel vision — on both sides — will not help clear a path to the solution.