(New York - Jim O'Grady and Kate McGee, WNYC) Gateway Tunnel--bride, son, mutant offspring of ARC--you choose--has been unveiled.
Amtrak President Joseph Boardman joined New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez on Monday to pledge $50 million for an engineering and planning study of a new trans-Hudson rail link between New York and New Jersey. It was the first of many steps if the $13.5 billion project is to come to fruition.
Like ARC, which was canceled by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for potential cost overruns, the Gateway Tunnel is meant to address a bi-state rail crisis.
It's backers say the project would increase commuter rail capacity by 65 percent by allowing New Jersey Transit to add thirteen more trains during peak hours and for Amtrak to run an additional eight trains per hour into New York City. The project also plans to speed up rail traffic in the Northeast Corridor by replacing the hundred-year-old Portal Bridge in New Jersey.
"Our commuters are fed up with train delays that make them late to work and endless traffic that traps them on our highways when they want to be home with their families," said Senator Lautenberg at a press conference announcing the tunnel. "The Gateway Project is a vision for our future that will shorten commutes, create jobs, increase property values and grow New Jersey’s economy."
For his part, Governor Christie said he found the new plan, “fascinating.” He said it also ratified his decision to pull the plug on ARC.
“If I had been intimidated by all the rhetoric from all the folks who were shooting at us at the time, the taxpayers of the state of New Jersey would be on the hook for untold billions of dollars,” he said at a press conference of his own. He added that Gateway, if built, would be better than ARC because it could potentially link to the 7 train, which would carry New Jersey commuters from Penn Station to points east in Manhattan.
The governor also stressed that this time, with Amtrak leading the charge, the feds would largely cover the cost.
Senator Menendez indirectly supported that point when he was asked at the Gateway press conference where the money for the project would be found. “I look at the president's budget on high speed rail, I look at a series of governors in the Midwest that have turned back the money that is eligible for them,” he said. “If we work with our regional partners here in an understanding of the regional benefits of this, we have a real opportunity to make this happen.”
Early reviews from civic and environmental groups were positive.
“This is great news to get the right tunnel in the right place," said Jeff Tittel, Director of New Jersey Sierra Club. "We desperately need another tunnel into Manhattan and this is where it should have gone all along.”
"Exciting news," added Tri-State Transportation Campaign. Amtrak President Joseph Boardman gave another reason to get a warm feeling about the project: he said Gateway will create 60,000 construction jobs and bring an additional 69,000 jobs to the area.