Business and labor groups: Don’t derail Hudson tunnel

We have heard with great concern President Donald Trump’s recent opposition to funding the Gateway Tunnel project, after initially showing support for it.

While some have chalked up the president’s reversal to political posturing, it’s more important than ever to reiterate and recognize the need for this critical project as we approach the March 23 deadline for Congress to negotiate a $1.2 trillion spending bill.

Globally, the rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York Penn Station represents the busiest rail hub in the Western Hemisphere. Nationally, there is no area of the country dependent on mass transportation as much as the North Jersey-New York region, with commuters taking more than 4.3 billion unlinked trips in Newark and New York City in 2015. In fact, Los Angeles, the second-highest region, had one-seventh that volume in the same year.

Simply put, the train tunnels underneath the Hudson River are fundamental to mass transportation connectivity we rely on so much. There are approximately 450 trains per day carrying 200,000 passengers crossing between Newark and Manhattan. The demands on this transportation will only expand, with the continued growth of Hudson, Bergen and Union counties and the entire New York metropolitan region.

The clock is ticking on our tunnels’ resiliency, with a life expectancy of only about 10 more years. The North River Tunnel under the Hudson River, in particular, has deteriorated due to age and intensive use, with additional damage sustained from saltwater exposure during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

This project would create a new tunnel under the Hudson River and allow the existing tubes to be closed one at a time for repairs. Additionally, it calls for the reconstruction of the 111-year-old Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River — a crucial part of the project that has been championed by Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen. On Friday morning, for example, service to and from New York Penn Station was suspended yet again because of issues with the bridge.

The impacts of long-term tunnel closures would create a nightmarish situation in our region. The closure of even one tube along the existing 10-mile tunnel would reduce travel capacity by up to 75 percent. In other words, instead of 24 trains per hour traveling between New York and New Jersey, rail tunnel riders would only have six.

In addition to its unquestionable need, the tunnel project is estimated to generate $9 billion in economic activity and create hundreds of thousands of high-skilled jobs. And both New Jersey and New York rank in the bottom five in the country in the amount of federal contracts received per federal taxes paid.

The president and members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, need to recognize that the Gateway Tunnel is a federal asset, not a local project serving local transit riders. The tunnel system represents the most crucial viaduct in the Northeast Corridor, which represents 30 percent of all jobs in the United States and contributes $3 trillion to our nation’s economy every year. It’s not a local project when some 3.5 million riders spent more than $593 million on Amtrak trips between Washington, D.C., and Boston in 2016. That’s about 25 percent of Amtrak’s annual ticket revenue.

The Gateway Tunnel project is, as Rick Cotton, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, recently put it, the single most pressing infrastructure project in the country.

New Jersey and New York are committed to paying their fair share for the project. But, now more than ever, this is the time for the president to recognize the need for federal funding before a closure cripples the region.

Michele Siekerka, CEO and president, New Jersey Business & Industry Association
Tom Bracken, president, New Jersey Chamber of Commerce
Bob Briant, CEO, Utility & Transportation Contractors Association
Jim Benton, president, New Jersey Society for Environmental, Economic Development
James Coyle, president, Gateway Regional Chamber of Commerce
Patrick Delle Cava, business manager, IBEW Local 102
Greg Lalevee, business manager, Operating Engineers Local 825
Mark Longo, director, Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative 825
Jim Kirkos, CEO and president, Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce
Maria L. Nieves, CEO and president, Hudson County Chamber of Commerce
Anthony Russo, president, Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey