The bad news keeps on coming for NJ Transit.
In the same month the agency disclosed it lost $5.6 million on the Super Bowl — on the same night when its performance was called into question more frequently than that of the Broncos — Amtrak, with which NJ Transit shares its most-traveled track, estimated its Hudson rail tunnels may have another 20 years left on the odometer.
That’s not really a surprise to those who commute into New York, who are well used to the kinds of delays that typify a rail ride into the city. But since the United States and long-term transportation infrastructure planning go together like HealthCare.gov and Internet Explorer, it’s no surprise that there’s been no news of how to respond to this challenge.
The last Hudson rail tunnel solution — sometimes known as ARC, often known as the tunnel to the Macy’s basement — was a step toward solving this problem. At $8.7 billion, it was to be the largest public project of its kind, but the rest is history; Chris Christie canceled it when he figured he could avoid raising the gas tax by pumping New Jersey’s share of the money into a one-shot plug for the Transportation Trust Fund that covers road projects.
The financing behind the ARC deal never made much sense — New Jersey was on the hook for cost overruns, and the state would continue to lose out on tax revenue as workers took jobs in Manhattan instead of the Garden State — but it would have provided an alternative to tunnels that are a century old and are filled far beyond capacity. Considering the size of New York’s economic engine, it should be a national embarrassment that such ancient tunnels are the most reliable means of crossing the river for thousands of commuters each day.
Why is this an issue for New Jersey businesses? Besides the fact that tunnel-related delays spill into major New Jersey employment centers such as Jersey City and Newark, the state won’t be able to call itself a bedroom community for those high-powered Manhattan office jobs if the only way in is an exorbitantly high toll to cross the George Washington Bridge. Those residents help fuel plenty of other jobs in a variety of service industries, which doesn’t seem like much, unless you consider the state’s bleak jobs picture.
The state should put its resources behind Amtrak’s Gateway solution, which should prove a real estate boon and solve quality-of-life issues for commuters. Time will tell if it gets done before the tunnels have to be closed for good.