HELL’S KITCHEN — Billions in additional taxpayer dollars could be poured into a project to build two rail tunnels under the Hudson River if the process for obtaining permits isn’t expedited, a study revealed.
Amtrak first announced plans for the $24 billion “Gateway Project” — which includes building two tunnels between New Jersey and Penn Station, rehabilitating New Jersey’s bridges and adding platforms to Penn Station — back in 2011, after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie withdrew funding for another proposed tunnel project known as Access to the Region’s Core (ARC).
The current $24 billion price tag factors in an 18-month environmental review and permitting process, but allowing that to balloon into a three-year process could increase costs by around $3 billion, a study released Monday by reform coalition Common Good found.
The lengthier process could increase construction costs, as well as contributing to lost business activity and lost property tax revenue, the study noted.
An additional two years beyond that could tack on an additional $7 billion to the total amount, the study found.
Amtrak has reportedly said it is committed to a two-year review and permitting process.
Any delays could also leave commuters with few alternatives when the two existing 105-year-old tunnels between New Jersey and Manhattan close for post-Hurricane Sandy repairs within the next decade, Common Good founder Philip Howard pointed out at a Monday discussion hosted by the coalition.
“When one tunnel closes down, 65,000 people have to find a new way to get into Manhattan,” he said.
“The longer it takes to start work, the more likely it is that we will have what some people call ‘Carmageddon,’” he added.
Howard and other officials, including Port Authority executive director Pat Foye, are pushing for a two-year review process for the Gateway Project — four years shorter than the time it took for ARC to undergo the review process before it was approved back in 2009.
The environmental review process has become “one-stop shopping” for opponents, who can “find a fatal flaw and drag it out” if the project isn’t to their liking, Howard said.
“It turns out we’re squandering billions of dollars because we’re spending so much time wringing our hands,” he said.
Foye pointed out that delays in the review and permitting process could have environmental impacts as well.
“Not having access to the tunnels and forcing people onto buses, or even worse, passenger cars, would have a dramatic impact on air quality in the region,” he said.
The Federal Railroad Administration's first public hearings for the Gateway Project will be held on May 19 in New Jersey, NorthJersey.com reported.