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New study outlines ARC Tunnel benefits; project must advance for New Jersey to remain competitive, Sen. Lautenberg says


Yesterday, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J) and the Regional Plan Association unveiled a study that details the benefits of New Jersey Transit’s Access to the Region’s Core, or ARC Tunnel, project.

The project — which calls for building two new tunnels under the Hudson River, new tracks between Secaucus Junction and New York’s Penn Station, and a new rail station beneath 34th Street in Manhattan — would reduce daily travel times by up to 30 minutes for New Jersey commuters, according to the study, a benefit that NJ Transit has been touting since the project’s inception.

The report estimates future commute-time savings to and from midtown Manhattan based on NJ Transit’s spring 2010 train schedules, trends in NJ Transit operations and the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.

“Without this tunnel, commutes will become intolerably long,” Lautenberg said in a prepared statement. “We are already at near capacity with the current 100-year-old tunnel, and demand for rail service in New Jersey to midtown Manhattan is expected to double over the next two decades.”

By reducing commute times, the ARC Tunnel would double the number of households in New Jersey that are within 50 minutes of Manhattan and, in turn, help raise New Jersey home values, according to the study. The tunnel would double the capacity of NJ Transit service to and from Manhattan, providing capacity for another 70,000 New Jerseyans to travel to Manhattan. Once complete, the tunnel would enable NJ Transit to provide a direct, transfer-free ride into Manhattan for riders on eight NJ Transit lines that currently require a transfer to reach New York City.

Earlier this month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced he was terminating the ARC project after a state review determined it would exceed its budget by several billion dollars. The project’s original cost estimate was $8.8 billion. However, based on calculations by the Federal Transit Administration and NJ Transit, the budget was expected to exceed $11 billion and perhaps surpass $14 billion.

“If New Jersey is to remain competitive for jobs in New York in the future, we must build this tunnel,” said Lautenberg. “If this project is cancelled, New Jersey’s transportation system will become a parking lot — isolated from job opportunities in Manhattan.”

Christie since has met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who provided several options to salvage the project. NJ Transit officials currently are reviewing those options.

The ARC project is slated to receive $3 billion in federal funds — the largest-ever federal contribution to a mass transit project, according to Lautenberg. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey also has committed $3 billion for the project. If the $3 billion in federal funding is not used, the dollars can’t be redirected to other New Jersey projects and instead will go to other states, Lautenberg said. NJ Transit already has spent $300 million in federal funds on the tunnel project. If the project is cancelled, the state would have to repay the federal government, Lautenberg added.

“I expect the governor to now work in good faith with the federal government to move this project forward,” he said. “Governor Christie needs to put politics aside and work on behalf of New Jersey commuters to get this tunnel back on track.”

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 10/15/2010