Resuscitating a corny but successful ad slogan for the state of New Jersey’s tourism initiative in the 1990s isn’t far from the reality that a successfully executed Gateway Program can provide safe and reliable transportation for intercity travelers and commuters across the Hudson River.
While adequate funding for this massive North East Corridor rail infrastructure project seems lost with partisan politics, let’s look at the various pieces within the Gateway Program, the social and economic reasons and benefits for modernization, current activity and how execution is paving the way for New Jersey’s and New York’s future.
The Gateway Program’s phase 1 is currently underway. It includes two projects: the Portal North Bridge Project and the Hudson Tunnel Project. Each is vital to the functioning of the NEC, and addresses single points of failure that can have catastrophic impacts to the region’s economy and environment.
The Portal North Bridge Project will replace the current, obsolete Portal Bridge — a century-old, two-track railroad swing bridge spanning the Hackensack River between Secaucus and Kearny. The existing Portal Bridge opened in 1910 and still opens about 100 times a year to let tugboats and barges through. It gets stuck open about 15 percent of the time, especially in winter when the lubricant freezes. New Jersey Transit and Amtrak are beginning to build a pier in the river, the first step of the process, with funding from a $16 million TIGER grant and a $4 million match from NJ Transit. Eventually, the new bridge will have a mile-long lead up to the Hackensack River and will run parallel to the New Jersey Turnpike. The full cost of the bridge is currently set at $1.5 billion.
The Hudson Tunnel Project is currently in the environmental review process and includes two components:
- Construction of a new two-track Hudson River rail tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan that will directly serve New York Penn Station;
- Rehabilitation of the 108-year-old, existing North River Tunnel, which incurred serious damage during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
The two-tube tunnel, which serves as the only rail connection between New York City and New Jersey, suffered saltwater damage from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 that is eating away at walls housing copper cables and electrical wires. “What’s really going on inside the tunnels is a toxic stew of sandy saltwater, normal water intrusion, metal corrosion and the aging process of the cement,” said Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton.
Hudson Yard Right-of-Way Preservation Project: On the east side of the river, through the Hudson Yards, two sections of the concrete casing have been built underground in the block bordered by 10th and 11th avenues and 30th and 33rd streets. The project preserves the ability to meet strong growth in rail travel west of the Hudson and throughout the Northeast Region. Without the preservation of this right-of-way, the opportunity to expand rail service into Penn Station from under the Hudson River would not be possible.
Since the North River Tunnel opened in 1910, there has been significant wear and tear. Let’s look at some facts:
- 1910: 116 trains/weekday … 2018: 450 trains/weekday;
- 1912: ~12,900 passenger trips/weekday … 2018: 200,000-plus passenger trips/weekday;
- 1910: ~100,000 visitors to Penn Station/day … 2018: 650,000-plus visitors to Penn Station/day;
- 1910: Portal Bridge that fails to close … 2018: Portal Bridge that fails to close;
- 1910: 2 tracks under the Hudson River … 2018: 2 tracks under the Hudson River.
- New York City population has increased by 81 percent, from 4.7 million to 8.6 million;
- New Jersey population has increased by 118 percent, from 2.5 million in 1901 to 9-plus million today.
- Average hourly wage: 22 cents;
- Cost of Model T: $400;
- Silent movie ticket: 7 cents;
- Only connection between New York and New Jersey was by ferry;
- Only 2 percent of Americans have electric power;
- Zero New York Yankees world championships.
While the current infrastructure is failing and more commuters rely on rail transportation, we all know that any new development is contingent on the economic prosperity the project will bring. Focusing on that, let’s take a look at some statistics provided by the Gateway Program:
- It is estimated that the project will generate 72,000 jobs and deliver $19 billion in economic activity;
- A benefit-cost analysis found construction of all elements of the Gateway Program could generate nearly $4 worth of economic benefit for every $1 spent;
- According to the report, the benefit-cost ratio of the Gateway Program is between 2.2 and 3.9, depending on certain assumptions. (A benefit-cost ratio that exceeds 1.0 indicates that a project is a wise investment of public funds. Benefit-cost ratios in excess of 2.0 can be considered extremely robust.)
Trans-Hudson commuting is vital to the national and regional economy:
- Accommodating 450 trains per day, the 10 miles between Newark and New York Penn Station is the busiest section of the Northeast Corridor, the most heavily used passenger rail line in North America;
- Failure to build puts 10 percent of America’s Gross Domestic Product at risk;
- 200,000 passenger trips a day rely on Amtrak and NJ Transit trains that use the existing tunnel;
- The existing tunnel connects to routes in 20 states across the U.S.
The bottom line: The risk of failure is growing as the 107-year-old tunnel ages and deteriorates further. The situation is barely acceptable now; it won’t get better by itself.
So here we stand, planning for our future through better building.
Local 825 Operating Engineers are highly trained and experienced heavy equipment operators, mechanics and surveyors who offer unsurpassed productivity to contractors throughout New Jersey and five counties in New York’s Hudson Valley. To learn more, visit us at http://www.iuoe825.org/.