When the most urgent infrastructure project in the nation became a political football in Washington, D.C., an uncommon alliance of business, labor and government leaders went on the offensive to ensure $540 million in potential funding for the Gateway rail program was included in the federal budget.
NJBIA worked with our New Jersey Congressional delegation, the state Chamber of Commerce and more than a dozen county and regional chambers, business groups, and labor unions in this successful effort to insert potential funding for Gateway in the $1.3 trillion federal budget. Even though a threatened presidential veto precluded this money from being earmarked specifically for Gateway, our alliance of business and labor groups is optimistic we can work with our Congressional delegation to keep up the public pressure to ensure these federal dollars are spent as intended.
Gateway’s importance to the regional and national economy cannot be overstated. It addresses a critical need on the busiest 10-mile section of the Northeast Corridor, the most heavily used passenger rail line in the country. The various projects involved are needed to connect millions of people to good jobs in the New York-New Jersey region and keep our economy strong.
Every day, 450 Amtrak and NJ Transit trains carrying 200,000 passengers use a century-old tunnel beneath the Hudson River to travel between Newark and Manhattan. The demand for more train capacity will only expand with the continued growth of Hudson, Bergen and Union counties and the entire New York metropolitan region.
However, the two train tubes in this tunnel have a life expectancy of only about 10 more years. The North River Tunnel has deteriorated severely due to age, intensive use, and extensive saltwater damage sustained from the flooding caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
The impacts of long-term tunnel closures would create an economic nightmare. Closing even one tube in the existing tunnel would reduce travel by up to 75 percent. Instead of 24 trains per hour traveling between New York and New Jersey, there would be six.
The Gateway project would build a new two-tube tunnel under the Hudson River, providing increased capacity in the long term, and, in the short term, allowing the existing tubes to be closed one at a time for repairs. Additionally, Gateway provides for the reconstruction of the 111-year-old Portal Bridge, which causes delays on the Northeast Corridor whenever this antiquated swing bridge 23 feet above the Hackensack River gets stuck after opening for maritime traffic.
Gateway is more than a New York-New Jersey issue. The Northeast Corridor runs through Washington, D.C. and eight states; it serves a region that is home to 17 percent of the US population and 97 Fortune 500 companies’ headquarters, and a corridor that contributes 20 percent of the national gross domestic product. Beyond the unquestionable need, the Gateway project is estimated to generate $9 billion in economic activity and create hundreds of thousands of high-skill jobs.
NJBIA, business, labor and our elected officals in Washington, D.C. will continue the fight for the federal dollars needed to complete this important mass transit project. This alliance is committed to seeing the new tunnel built.
I would like to end this column about important alliances on a personal note. Bernie Flynn has just retired as president and CEO of NJM Insurance Group after a distinguished 25-year career. Above being a dedicated leader and a visionary for NJM, Bernie exemplified amazing corporate stewardship that resulted in untold positives for nonprofits and numerous communities. All of us at NJBIA wish Bernie a well-deserved and happy retirement. He will be missed!