Democratic lawmakers and Amtrak Monday announced a $13.5 billion plan to increase rail service between New Jersey and Manhattan by building two new train tunnels underneath the Hudson River.
The proposal is an alternative to a canceled mass transit tunnel, called the Access to the Region’s Core, or ARC tunnel, that Republican Gov. Chris Christie terminated in late October. He said that New Jersey could not afford the project’s potential cost overruns of $1.1 billion to $4 billion.
New Jersey’s U.S. senators, Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and Amtrak officials announced in Newark’s Pennsylvania Station that Amtrak will spend $50 million for preliminary engineering and design work to construct two new rail tunnels between northern New Jersey and Manhattan, called the “Gateway Project.”
Officials estimate construction would be completed by 2020. The new tunnels would add 13 more New Jersey Transit commuter trains during peak hours and increase the number of Amtrak trains into Manhattan by eight per hour.
Adding rail capacity between the Garden State and Manhattan would help relieve congestion on roadways. Officials project commuter travel in the area will double in 20 years. NJTransit and Amtrak are currently running at capacity during rush hours.
Amtrak’s new two-track plan will connect into an expanded Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan.
“Building our mass transit infrastructure is vital to the long-term economic competitiveness and growth of our metropolitan region,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “The fact that even Amtrak is working to make this happen shows how important it is to the region’s job growth and economic future. This proposal is a positive step in the effort to cover a gaping hole in our cross-Hudson transportation system.”
How the $13.5 billion tunnel project will be paid for is still undetermined. Amtrak will spearhead an initiative to find financing from New Jersey, New York State, New York City, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Following the Gateway Project announcement, Christie would not commit his support for financing the Amtrak project, but said New Jersey might contribute when the time comes. He said that as of right now, the state does not have the money to assist in the tunnel plan.
When reporters asked if there is money available, Christie said: “As we speak, here, at the moment, no.”
“When a tunnel might, eventually, have to be done and the money has to be put on the table, maybe,” he added. “We’ll see what the deal is. We’ll see what’s good for the taxpayers of the state. So, we’ll see. If they asked me for a check today, the answer is no.”
The ARC tunnel was pegged at $8.7 billion, before any potential cost overruns. NJTransit was managing the initiative. New Jersey’s obligation towards the project was $2.7 billion, along with $775 million for a new Portal Bridge South, part of the ARC project. The federal government and the Port Authority also pledged $3 billion each.
Christie also stressed that he canceled the ARC tunnel because Amtrak and the federal government should oversee such a major rail project, rather than NJTransit.
“And now today, the taxpayers of New Jersey are protected,” Christie said. “And you have real talk about a federal lead on a project that should have been a federal project all along. And that if there are going to be contributions from the states, there are going to be contributions from all the states that benefit.”