Labor Wakes Up on ARC Tunnel

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(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  Labor unions, oddly silent thus far in the ARC debate (even with 6,000 constrcution jobs at stake), are begining to get into the act.  Here's a statement issued today from the NJ AFL-CIO:


TRENTON – Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, today urged Governor Christie to work cooperatively with federal transportation officials and other interested parties to reach an agreement that will allow the continuation of construction on a new passenger rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York.

“Everyone agrees that we need a new rail tunnel under the Hudson,” Wowkanech said. “Doubling rail passenger capacity is necessary to make New Jersey and New York economically competitive, to reduce congestion on our highways and to improve the quality of the air we breathe.”

Wowkanech applauded Christie for giving the $8.7 billion Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) tunnel project a two-week reprieve after meeting Friday U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in Trenton. Christie and LaHood agreed to have their staffs meet over the next two weeks to review Christie’s concerns about projected cost overruns on the tunnel and to present options to the governor that would allow continuation of the project,

“This is the kind of meeting that should have been happening all along. If we can improve the existing project, we should do so. No project’s perfect. Let’s get it right. But we have to move forward because this tunnel is crucial to our future economic growth,” Wowkanech said.

Wowkanech noted that the state’s Transportation Trust Fund was created in the mid-1980s by former Republican Governor Tom Kean, a Democratic-controlled state legislature, and leaders of the state’s business, labor, transportation and environmental communities working together on a bipartisan basis to give New Jersey a first-class transportation network.

“This should not be a Democratic or Republican issue. It is about doing what is right for New Jersey,” he said.

Wowkanech called on business, labor, environmental and transportation advocacy groups to band together -- as they did 25 years ago in supporting the Transportation Trust Fund -- to let Christie know how important a new rail passenger tunnel under the Hudson is to the state’s future prosperity.

He also urged Christie to treat the ARC tunnel project and the development of a new plan for the Transportation Trust Fund as separate issues.

“I know there has been a lot of talk about whether money from the tunnel project could be used to pay for new projects under the Transportation Trust Fund,” he said. “But New Jersey needs to do both. We need to build the tunnel and we need to find a way to put money back into the Transportation Trust Fund. These are two separate issues.

“New Jersey’s transportation network is the most important economic engine we have,” he said. “The cargo that comes into our Port and the air freight that comes into Newark Liberty Airport travels our highways and bridges to get to customers all over the Northeast. We need to keep those roads and bridges repaired to handle that traffic because it means business and jobs for New Jersey. And we need to replace the Bayonne Bridge so that larger ships can get into our port and not have to go to Halifax or Norfolk.”

Wowkanech noted that the ARC tunnel would be the largest public works project in the nation, and that U.S. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez worked hard with both Republican and Democratic members of the state’s House delegation to lobby for a special $3 billion federal grant. That grant would be lost if the tunnel project is cancelled.

“With unemployment rates still above 9.5 percent and even higher in the building trades, we cannot afford to lose the 6,000 construction jobs and 45,000 permanent jobs this project represents,” Wowkanech said. “We cannot afford to give back a $3 billion federal grant that would be gobbled up in a minute by other states. We’ve already spent $600 million on this project. What a waste it would be to leave a $600 million hole in the ground.”