(image courtesy of Senator Lautenberg)
In the wake of the ARC tunnel's cancellation last year, there have been different proposals for increasing trans-Hudson rail capacity. Like extending the #7 subway to Secaucus, which has recently captured the attention of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Now, another trans-Hudson alternative --the Gateway Tunnel -- won a small victory on Tuesday when the Senate approved $15 million for Amtrak to begin design and engineering work.
Like ARC, Gateway would dig two rail tunnels underneath the Hudson River from New Jersey, terminating just south of Penn Station. And, like ARC, the Gateway project aims to alleviate the biggest rail bottleneck in the Northeast -- trans-Hudson capacity in and out of Penn Station.
Amtrak had initially wanted $50 million for the study, but the corporation put a brave face on receiving $35 million less then it requested. "Today’s announcement also brings us one step closer to Gateway’s desired goal -- expanding track and station capacity necessary to enable Amtrak’s next generation high-speed rail plan and support improved service for thousands of Amtrak and New Jersey Transit passengers traveling between New York and New Jersey each day.”
But just how much closer it really brings that to fruition is unclear. Although the Senate has approved the $15 million funding, the bill must now be reconciled in an Amtrak-unfriendly House. And no one can even hazard a guess as to how the total cost of the $13.5 billion project might be funded.
But Gateway is the reality that New York and New Jersey have, and the fact that the Senate has approved funding puts it that much further along than the #7 to Secaucus. And Gateway does something the # 7 doesn't: it lays the groundwork for bullet trains in the northeast.
Petra Todorovich, the director of America 2050, said: "The way I see it is the ARC tunnel was primarily... regional commuter rail with side benefits for inter-city rail. The Gateway tunnel is more of a project focused on inter-city rail with side benefits for commuter rail."
But while Todorovich viewed the $15 million as a positive step, she said: "Now we’re back to studying the options for relieving capacity constraints under the Hudson River."
New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, who championed ARC and is now a Gateway booster, said: “This funding will allow Amtrak to begin moving the Gateway Tunnel project forward to create jobs, increase access to commuter trains, and bring America’s first real high-speed rail project to New Jersey and the Northeast Corridor.”
His colleague, Senator Robert Menendez, added: "People crossing the Hudson River are facing outrageous tolls, traffic jams, and train service that is getting less and less reliable. The Gateway Project will add enormous capacity across the Hudson and also pave the way for true high speed rail for the entire region. This will create jobs now and unlock enormous economic opportunity in the future.”
New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand also emailed statements of support for the project.
Juliette Michaelson, director of strategic initiatives at the Regional Plan Association, said she was sorry to see the ARC Tunnel go. "There’s a very clear need for more transit service between New Jersey and New York. ARC was one way to do it, it wasn’t perfect, but it had the funding, it had all the environmental approvals, it was underway... Now that it's gone, there are any number of proposals on the table." Not just the Gateway project and the #7 subway, but also options like building a new bus garage at the Port Authority, extending the L train, and adding ferry service. But, she said, "all of this will take a long time to shake out. And we've got to do it right."