Monday, October 6, 2014

A Gateway Out Chris Christie's Hell

The Amtrak Gateway project that is currently not being rushed into place before disaster strikes the NJ-NY commuting populace.

NYC and NJ could both be in for a world of hurt if we don't invest in some Hudson River rail crossing redundancy, immediately.
New York’s dependence on its rail system is why Amtrak’s announcement last week that damage from 2012’s Hurricane Sandy would require the eventual renovation of the North River (Hudson River) tunnels, which connect New Jersey and New York, is such devastating news. The $700 million expected cost of the renovation, which includes improvements to tunnels under the East River, isn’t the problem, for once, as the price is expected to be covered by insurance. Rather, the problem is that Amtrak noted that the renovation of the North River tunnels would require shutting down one track at a time (there are two), reducing peak capacity from 24 trains an hour to just 6 (there are four tracks under the East River so there is far less of a concern there).**
It’s unclear how this problem will be handled. Passengers could switch to the already-crowded PATH subway into New York from Newark or Hoboken. Or one of the automobile tunnels could be converted to bus service, which isn’t likely to make many drivers happy. Amtrak through-service from Washington to Boston will be dealt a severe blow. Either way, there are no happy outcomes to a tunnel renovation program other than a safer infrastructure.
Amtrak head Joseph Boardman noted that, because of the storm damage, the 104-year-old tunnels likely only have 20 years left of life in them. The public rail company’s solution is to immediately begin construction of the Gateway Program, whose primary component is a new double-track rail tunnel under the Hudson. Once those new tunnels are ready for use, rehabilitation of the North River tunnels could commence by 2025 or so.
Amtrak’s report could be seen as little more than a thinly-veiled threat; give us money to build a new tunnel, the argument goes, or you’ll suffer from complete evisceration of your rail services. Indeed, the press release notes that “the report underscores the urgency to advance the Gateway Program,” including the new Hudson tunnels. Who knows whether to believe Mr. Boardman’s proclamation about the tunnel’s life expectancy.
Yet it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that, even had the storm not happened, a new Hudson River rail tunnel would have been necessary. Traffic along the rail corridor is expanding. New York City is expected to continue to grow in the coming decades. And resiliency is always a good idea (had Sandy been bad enough to destroy the tunnels, what would have happened?).
It absolutely blew my mind when Hudson rail crossing redundancy was not an immediate, hair-on-fire priority after 9/11.  I mean, lots of good policy that should have been implemented after 9/11 was ignored in favor of tax cuts for the rich, invading Iraq, and lavishing funds on Bush and Cheney cronies.  And while that was tragic, and will hurt us all for decades to come, it was not entirely unexpected.  But new tunnels under the Hudson?  That for sure I thought would be a priority.  Wrong!  And then, even the slow progress of the Access to the Region's Core project (which admittedly had problems beyond its awful title*) was utterly derailed by NJ Governor Chris Christie, who siphoned off the funds for slosh around the state on highway projects.

And now?  We are on the verge of a potential bi-state transportation nightmare.  And if one thing goes wrong, a lot of people are going to be very miserable for a long time.

* Yonah's post neatly lays out the problems with the ARC project, and I am forced to footnote my criticism of Christie with odd fact that if Gateway gets built before we have a catastrophe, we will be better off.  Christie was only focused on redeploying the money from transit to highways.   However, Gateway is unquestionably a superior project to ARC, and it was only Christie's cynical, selfish act that made Gateway a practical possibility.   But if catastrophe strikes first, Christie's name will be mud forever.

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