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Pols seek emergency plan for shirked Hudson River tunnel

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Proposed legislation seeks an emergency plan from the Trump administration, who omitted crucial Gateway Tunnel project funding from its 2020 budget

Flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy has lead to falling concrete, corroded electrical cabling, and standing water damage in the tunnel.
Governor Cuomo’s Flickr

State lawmakers have released bipartisan federal legislation that would require the Trump administration to craft a contingency plan should the train tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey have to undergo emergency repairs before a replacement tunnel opens, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The legislation, introduced by Representatives Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Peter King of New York, is a response to the Trump administration’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget released on Monday that omits funding for the Gateway Tunnel project.

The 110-year-old tunnel that carries NJ Transit and Amtrak trains beneath the Hudson River has been falling into disrepair for years. Since 2012, flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy has expedited the tunnel’s disintegration, leading to falling concrete, corroded electrical cabling, and standing water damage. Much of that damage was documented in a late 2018 tour of the tunnel by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The Gateway Tunnel project would provide critical infrastructure upgrades and create expanded capacity, but has been delayed over disagreements about who should fund it. (Sound familiar?) Under the Obama administration, the $30 billion project was set to be paid in half by the federal government with New Jersey and New York sharing the remaining cost. But the Trump administration maintains that the financial burden should fall on the states. The tunnel is owned by Amtrak, which is a government entity.

The current tunnel carries 450 trains each week day, or 24 trains per hour. If the tunnel had to be shut for repairs one tube at a time, rail officials estimate that that frequency would be cut by 75 percent, to six trains per hour. “When the tunnel sneezes, we all catch colds,” Jerry Zaro, the chairman of the Gateway Development Corp., told AMNY. The Gateway Tunnel project would include doubling rail tracks between Newark and New York as well as building several new bridges.

There really isn’t an alternative service plan that could possibly accommodate the Hudson River tunnel commuters should a tunnel fail, Zaro told AMNY. The roads into the city are already congested and Port Authority is already operating beyond its capacity.

Although Amtrak is considering using the methods that Governor Cuomo will employ to repair the Canarsie Tunnel while keeping the L train running for its damaged tunnels between Manhattan and Queens, the agency says the same such approach could not work for the Hudson River tunnel.

A report released in late February by the Regional Plan Association found that if just one of the two tracks under the Hudson River were to close, it would cost the national economy $16 billion over four years, or the equivalent to the loss of 33,000 jobs per year. The closure would force many to resort to the already inundated surface roads, and others to switch jobs or move altogether. The report also notes that homeowners would see their property values dip by a collective $22 billion. The closure, as the RPA puts is, could be the trigger that pushes the area into recession.