Transportation experts and agency chiefs from New Jersey and New York told a packed audience at RPA's "Crossing the Hudson" conference that expanding rail capacity in and out of New York City is vitally important for both states.
New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson expressed support for Amtrak's Gateway project, which calls for building two new rail tunnels beneath the Hudson River. The new tracks would reduce severe congestion and service problems for NJ Transit and Amtrak riders between New Jersey and New York that ripple out along the entire the Northeast Corridor. "Gateway is the best project out there," Simpson said.
While the plans for Gateway are still preliminary, the tracks would carry trains from the Palisades in Bergen County into Manhattan, emerging at the Penn Station complex, which will eventually include Amtrak's new New York base, Moynihan Station.
"There is a well-known need," Stephen Gardner, Amtrak's vice president in charge of the project, said on the panel he shared with Simpson and Joe Lhota, head of New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The challenge, he said, would be to persuade a broader audience and come up with the funding for a project that Amtrak estimates would cost about $15 billion and take around a decade to build.
Expanding trans-Hudson capacity is a crucial issue for the MTA as well, Lhota told the conference. Transit bottlenecks hurt New York businesses, whose employees are often commuting from New Jersey. If transit capacity isn't expanded, he said, "the choke point will get to a point where it will choke the economy." In addition, the MTA shares Penn Station with both NJ Transit and Amtrak, so improvements to the flow of trains and passengers will benefit everyone.
New rail capacity is years away. In the meantime, New Jersey's Simpson said, it's important to look at other ways of expanding connections between New Jersey and New York, including increasing ferry and bus service. And he cautioned that in order to persuade taxpayers that the region should invest in such a large project, the benefits need to be made clear. "You can't be blind to what happened with ARC," he said, referring to the proposed NJ Transit tunnel project canceled by Gov. Chris Christie in 2010.
Listen to audio of the first panel discussion from the "Crossing the Hudson" conference.