Today looked to be an important milestone in the Access to the Region’s Core project, with Gov. Jon Corzine and a host of federal and state officials breaking ground on NJ Transit’s “Mass Transit Tunnel,” which will double rail capacity between New York City and NJ Transit’s rail network. But TSTC staffers and other members of the audience heard even more momentous news from the Federal Transit Administration, which announced that it intends to sign a full funding grant agreement later in the year. This commitment of $3 billion in “New Starts” money, coupled with the $5.7 billion committed by the Port Authority and NJ Transit, means the project is now fully funded.
Because the $3 billion is beyond the FTA’s commitment authority, it requires Congressional approval, which is expected to be routine. In the meantime, the FTA has signed a $1.35 billion “early systems work agreement” for the project.
Calling ARC a “truly transformational investment,” FTA administrator Peter Rogoff said that “the Obama Administration is committed to seeing this project through to its completion.” NJ Transit executive director Richard Sarles said the project would improve statewide rail access, and thanked Tri-State for advocating and building support for the tunnel.
When construction on the tunnel begins this month, three transit megaprojects will be progressing in the metropolitan region: ARC, the Second Avenue Subway, and LIRR East Side Access. While there is some uncertainty over the MTA’s next five-year capital plan, which will fund the latter two projects, this is the greatest level of transit expansion the region has seen in decades.
TSTC and New Jersey environmental and planning groups applauded the groundbreaking this morning (the release was sent before the FTA’s funding announcement). Peter Kasabach of NJ Future said the tunnel “will enable smarter growth in New Jersey.” ARC “proves that job creation and environmental awareness go hand in hand,” Dave Pringle of the NJ Environmental Federation said. Regional Plan Association’s Carlos Rodrigues said the tunnel’s benefits accrued to “the entire region, making it more livable and more competitive.” Julia Sommers of the Highlands Coalition noted that by driving investment in cities, ARC would relieve the sprawl development threatening the Highlands water conservation area. PlanSmart NJ and the NJ Conservation Foundation also lauded the groundbreaking.