Amtrak is proposing a $13.5 billion project that will include building two commuter rail tunnels from New Jersey to New York by 2020, replacing a $9.7 billion project that New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie killed.
The so-called Gateway project would allow New Jersey Transit and Amtrak to increase commuter rail capacity 65 percent by adding 13 and eight trains per hour, respectively, at peak times into New York, according to a statement today from Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat.
“The Gateway Project is a vision for our future that will shorten commutes, create jobs, increase property values and grow New Jersey’s economy,” Lautenberg said in the statement.
The Gateway tunnels would connect to an expanded Penn Station in New York with seven additional tracks, increasing intercity and high-speed rail access in the Northeast Corridor. Amtrak’s plan also calls for replacing a 100-year-old bridge and doubling the number of tracks between Newark, New Jersey, and Penn Station.
Amtrak spokesman Steve Kulm called the project “a necessary part of Amtrak’s vision for bringing high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor.” More than two out of every three travelers through the region passes through New York, he said.
[. . .]
Amtrak would spend $50 million on preliminary engineering and design work and take the lead in finding other funding sources, according to the statement. Possible contributors include the states of New York and New Jersey; New York City; New Jersey Transit, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, as well as private investors, it said.
So to review: Facing budget deficits as far as the eye could see, Governor Christie killed the $9.7 billion ARC tunnel, citing near guaranteed cost overruns (funny that Amtrak — which will actually have to go fundraise — came in with a much bigger $13.5 billion estimate), and rightly complaining that the state of New Jersey would be bearing the brunt of the costs for a project the principal aim of which was to more efficiently transport tax revenue across the Hudson into New York. The response, especially from Lautenberg and his co-delegate Sen. Bob Menendez (D.), was apoplectic. At the time I recall Christie relating to NBC’s Brian Williams a last-ditch phone call he received from New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, the upshot of which was Christie telling Bloomberg that if he wanted the tunnel so badly he should take out his checkbook.
Now, a(n admittedly public) corporation will be taking on the project, ponying up the preliminary costs and doing the capital raising. New Jersey — and New York, and the Port Authority, and (imagine!) private investors — will be able to run the cost-benefit analyses and determine their exposure to the project. There is still plenty of time for this to go bad and plenty of room for massive waste on the taxpayer’s dime, but it’s hard to see how this isn’t a significantly better outcome for Governor Christie and the people of New Jersey.
UPDATE: Here’s a partial transcript from Governor Christie’s presser today:
Governor Chris Christie: Well, I find it fascinating, I hope you all do too because remember the descriptions of ARC. There’s some dispute I’d say about how long a generation actually is, right? People say a generation, how long that is. In New Jersey as it applies to this a generation is three months. ARC is all a once-in-a-generation project. All I said at the time were things that apparently were confirmed in the main by the press conference today. 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 Macys, and on the whole, the Amtrak tunnel is going to go to an expanded Penn Station under the plan that I saw today. Today, they touted this plan as ‘having better control over cost overruns.’ But the thing I find interesting about that is that these are the very same people who are saying months ago that I was fabricating the cost overruns. That they didn’t really exist. Someone better get to Chairman Wisniewski quickly so he can amend his talking points. 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. Listen, I’ve said all along I think we need a second tunnel underneath the Hudson River I said at the time we should partner with Amtrak to do it. I was told by Senator Lautenberg, Senator Menendez and others that it’s impossible. Takes thirty years for it to happen. I was also told that the work on ARC that was done already would have no use for anything. Yet if you look at the path that this new tunnel is taking, it’s almost identical to the path that ARC is taking and I think that they even said today that they’d find some of the engineering studies and other work that was done would be useful to ARC. It’s interesting to me too. I’m glad I didn’t rush to pay that bill that the FTA sent. I mean, I’m thrilled that there’s movement on this. I’m happy at the appropriate time, to sit down with the folks who are in charge of it to see what role if any the state of New Jersey might be able to play to help it along. But I hope all of you are taking note of all the dire predictions that were made and how wrong I was to have cancelled this. And now today the taxpayers of New Jersey are protected 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. Not just the State of New Jersey and its taxpayers which was the ARC plan. Sometimes, to make real change happen, you have to stand up and be counted and make the tough decisions and if I had been intimidated by all the rhetoric from all the folks who were shooting at us at the time, the taxpayers of New Jersey would be on the hook for untold billions of dollars. Now, they will, I hope if this plan works benefit from having a second mass-transit tunnel under the Hudson River, have it go to a place where it can actually connect with the east side of New York. Have it go to a place where they can connect with other mass transit, and have it done in a way that will be protective of cost overruns because the feds in fact would be the people in charge. And why would you ever want a separate Amtrak tunnel and a separate New Jersey Transit tunnel? It never made any sense anyway. So I’m thrilled to see it. I’ve had about a half-hour to review, because I know all of you were rushing from that as well, I’ve had a half-hour to review it, but I’m glad that a generation’s time passed in three months. And I would suggest to you that the reason it did is because the leadership of the State of New Jersey stood up for the people of the State of New Jersey and said we are not going to be the patsies who pick up the tab for this. And now for a number of partners for all this if it fleshes out and if there’s a need for us to do it I’ll be happy to consider it in the context of fairness to the taxpayers of New Jersey. And 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 it’s 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.
[follow-up question from reporter]
Lisa: …. Does that mean there’s money available?
Governor Christie: As we speak, here, at the moment, no. When a tunnel might actually, eventually, have to be done and the money to be put on the table, maybe. We’ll see what the deal is. We’ll see what’s good for the taxpayers of the state. So, we’ll see. But as we sit here today, no. If they asked me for a check today, the answer is no.