It should have been done by now.

2018 was the expected completion date of the new railroad tunnels under the Hudson River first proposed in 2009.  At the time the $9 billion project was the biggest infrastructure project in the country.  Now it’s just a footnote to history.

Why do rail tunnels from New York’s Penn Station to New Jersey matter to us here in Connecticut?  Because they are the weakest but most crucial link in the northeast corridor, the $50 billion heart of the US economy.  Imagine trying to get to Philadelphia or Washington without Amtrak running through our state, into those tunnels and to points south.

There are 23 bridges and tunnels connecting Manhattan from the north and east.  But between that island and New Jersey there are only six… two of them those rail tunnels built in 1910.  And when super-storm Sandy flooded those tunnels in October 2012 with 3.5 million gallons of salt water, their lifespan was shortened by decades due to corrosion.

If one of those two rail tunnels were to fail, the entire nation would be in an economic crisis.

New York’s Penn Station was never built to handle the 430,000 daily passengers it now handles each day (vs the 750,000 who enter the much-larger Grand Central Terminal).  Amtrak, NJ Transit and the LIRR carry twice as many riders at Penn as New York’s three airports combined.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania residents alone make up 16% of Manhattan’s workforce.  Their rail commuting options are so tight that many rely on the 7700 daily commuter buses that bring them into the transit cesspool known as The Port Authority bus terminal.

All that could have changed if the 2009 plan to build additional rail tunnels had gone through.  But then, along came Chris Christie, the newly elected Governor of the Garden State who balked at the cost and pulled the plug.

Cynics say that he did so to instead spend money on highways and keep the state’s gasoline tax low for another few years, even after repaying Uncle Sam for $95 million already spent on the project.

Now the project has been redesigned… and re-priced at a staggering $20 billion, which also includes adding seven more tracks at the overcrowded Penn Station.  The new target for completion is 2030.  Of the total, both NY and NJ would each contribute $3.6 billion with another $1.9 billion coming from the Port Authority.

But that’s only if President Trump’s promise for $1 trillion of spending on infrastructure makes it through Congress.  And that seems iffy.  The Trump campaign promise hinges on public-private-partnerships (P3’s).  The White House even convened a panel of high powered business leaders to study the idea, but they all quit after the President’s comments following the Charlottesville riots.

Imagine that:  Tweets that killed a tunnel.

Even basking in the glow of tax reform, I don’t think Congress has the appetite to tackle the infrastructure plan if it adds further to the deficit.  Worse yet, those in the red states so loathe the liberal New York area that they’d just love to see us crumble… like an aging railroad tunnel.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media.  Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.

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Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. He writes a weekly column called "Talking Transportation" for CT Mirror and other publications in the state. Read past Talking Transportation columns here. Contact Jim at the Commuter Action Group.

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