Rejecting a decision by Chris Christie to scrap a Hudson River tunnel project that the New Jersey Republican governor said was too costly and wasteful, the state's two Democratic senators on Monday offered up their own plan to build two new rail tunnels from New Jersey to New York City.
New Jersey Democratic Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, along with Amtrak's president and board of directors, announced the new "Gateway Project" to increase NJ Transit commuter rail capacity into New York by 65 percent. The rails would connect to a new station named after late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan as well as to a new Penn Station South that is connected to the existing New York Penn Station, which has reached capacity.
"New Jersey is facing a transportation crisis. Our commuters are fed up with train delays that make them late to work and endless traffic that traps them on our highways when they want to be home with their families," Lautenberg said.
Transportation analysts say commuting into New York City is only going to get worse if serious infrastructure changes aren't made now. Joseph Boardman, president and CEO of Amtrak, said the Northeast corridor has about 260 million Amtrak and commuter riders each year. That number is expected to go up to 413 million riders a year by 2030.
"I think it's critical. But it's not just the Northeast, it's to this country. It's critical that we have a balanced transportation program that competes globally, and it's going to be able to provide us with an additional safeguard when the increases in the price of fuel today, that we are going to see in the future," Boardman told Fox News.
The Gateway Project is estimated to cost $13.5 billion, and will take a decade to complete. Amtrak is expected to ask the federal government this week to fund a $50 million engineering study on the plan for the two tunnels. Additional funding would come from local, regional and state governments in New York and New Jersey, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and from private investors.
The decision to move forward isn't lost on Christie, who in October scrapped a similar rail plan called Access to the Region's Core, or "ARC." ARC reportedly would have cost between $9 billion and $14 billion to complete, with the state having to foot too much of the bill. The new Gateway trains would follow a similar path from Secaucus, N.J., to New York City that had been proposed for the ARC, but the Gateway routes would connect to new tracks in Penn Station, instead of ending under the city's West 34th Street.
"Someone better get to (New Jersey Democratic State Committee) Chairman (John) Wisniewski quickly so he can amend his talking points," Christie said, "because now the Democratic United States senators are now saying that this project will have better control over cost overruns that they were claiming months ago didn't exist. ...
"These are the very same people who were saying months ago that I was fabricating the cost overruns. That they didn't really exist," he added.
Christie told reporters he acted in the best interest of the people of New Jersey when he rejected the ARC plan. As for the senators' Gateway Project, "they're advocating the Amtrak plan because they say that the feds should take the lead. I said the feds should take the lead if they thought the project was that important. I said that it was a stupid idea to have a tunnel go to the basement of Macy’s, and on the whole, the Amtrak tunnel is going to go to an expanded Penn Station under the plan that I saw today. "
Asked by reporters about Christie's reaction to the proposed project, Menendez said he didn't want to "re-hash the battles of the past."
"But the reality is, the project, the ARC tunnel, was on time, on budget, when it was canceled. And it was canceled supposedly over the spectrum of the potential for cost overruns which the secretary of transportation offered alternatives to mitigate to," he said.
The ARC tunnel was in the planning stages for decades. Last year, federal authorities mailed New Jersey a bill for $271 million for engineering and construction work done on the tunnel before Christie canceled the project. Christie is fighting the payment and has filed an appeal.
Both Lautenberg and Menendez said they plan to talk to Christie about the new proposed tunnel project next week at a delegation meeting. Christie said he looks forward to continuing the conversation, but wants Garden State residents to understand he rejected the ARC plan to protect tax dollars.
"I hope all those commuters who were yelling and screaming, who felt nothing would ever happen if I did this, now understand that I was doing it for a reason -- because it wasn't a good deal for New Jersey, and we can do better. And this Amtrak deal seems like its the beginning of a better deal.
"And to the extent they played a constructive role in it, I want to congratulate Senator Menendez and Senator Lautenberg as well, for them stepping up to the plate for performing their function as federal representatives, pivoting to try to find a better way, and I look forward to working with them as we go forward to try to make this a reality."