It took Governor Christie four years, eight months and 26 days to call for additional railway capacity under the Hudson.
The governor caused quite a media frenzy with his recent attention to the need to improve the trans-Hudson rail connection, specifically the Amtrak Gateway Tunnel Project. In fact, he met today with New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx to discuss how to fund the $20 billion tunnel plan. The press release issued following the meeting was short on details, leaving much to the imagination.
That Governor Christie has come to the table to discuss building new trans-Hudson rail capacity is good news, but where was he during the last 1,730 days? Why didn’t he call for a meeting with USDOT on October 28, 2010, the day after he killed the Access to the Region’s Core tunnel project? Ridership on the Northeast Corridor has doubled over the last 30 years, and is projected to double again by 2040; clearly the need for new trans-Hudson rail capacity didn’t surface over night. In fact, transportation experts had been planning a new tunnel since at least the early 1990’s.
There were a number of missed opportunities over the years for Governor Christie to stand up for New Jersey commuters. Here are just a few of the big ones:
- On August 9, 2011, when a New Jersey Transit train derailed right as the train had entered one of the tunnels, stranding 300 passengers and causing massive delays which lasted well into the following day.
- In October of 2012, when Super Storm Sandy brought NJTransit service to a screeching a halt for three days as the tunnels were inundated with water.
- In February 2014, when NJ Transit commuters faced record delays, the worst month in 18 years.
- And in May of the same year, when an Amtrak report indicated that the existing tunnels would need to be shut down within 20 years, reducing trans-Hudson capacity by 75 percent.
Had Christie not cancelled ARC, the project would have been completed by 2017. Now we are looking at a much different timeline: the earliest the two-tunnel Gateway Project could be completed is 2025. Once that day comes, the two existing tunnels would be taken out of service and repaired — a three-year project. So at some point in the late 2020’s, all four tunnels will most likely be in service. The other components of the Gateway Project (Portal Bridge North and South, Penn Station Expansion) could be completed by 2035.
Governor Christie must make a firm commitment to work with the federal government (and hopefully New York Governor Andrew Cuomo) to set the Gateway Project in motion. Discussions are a good start, but they do not build tunnels. Governor Christie has wasted enough time and money already; it’s time to break ground.