Public Comment at the Gateway Program Development Corporation Board Meeting
December 21, 2017
Dani Simons, VP Strategic Communications, Regional Plan Association
The Gateway Program must funded and built in a timely fashion. We were pleased to see this past week that the Governors of New York and New Jersey have put forth a concrete proposal for the local portion of this funding. It is now time for the federal government to step up and do the same for the federal portion.
The demand has been demonstrated and can be felt by anyone who has ever stepped foot into the over-crowded Penn Station at rush hour. The project’s economic benefits are clear, creating more capacity for transHudson travel will enable continued growth in the Northeast. What we don’t want to prove out in real time is the massive disruption that would occur if either or both of the existing tunnels fail from natural or manmade disaster before Gateway is built.
The Northeast is one of nation’s most powerful economic engines producing 20% of the nation's GDP with 17% of the population on 2% of the nation's land area. The Gateway project is therefore a critical linkage not just for the region, but for the nation. The federal government must demonstrate responsible stewardship of this project and all of our nation’s critical infrastructure. This means making good on its commitment to fund, not just finance, Gateway.
The added capacity and redundancy that Gateway offers is vital to both our economy and our national security. The existing Hudson River tunnels, already damaged during Superstorm Sandy, are vulnerable to disasters, both natural and manmade. In 2014 Amtrak estimated that the tunnels had up to 20 years left before one or both would need to be closed for intensive repairs. If the tunnels need to be closed, or fail without a back-up, it would displace the nearly 100,000 commuters and Amtrak riders that use them each weekday. And the ripple effect would be much, much worse. Failure of the Hudson River tunnels, or even just one of them would cripple commerce up and down the entire east coast, and have serious impacts nationwide.
The failure of even one tunnel would put tens of thousands of more cars onto already congested highways and bridges, and force Amtrak passengers to switch to road or airplane.
The vast majority of freight in our area moves by truck. Tens of thousands of additional cars on area roads would gridlock the movement of goods up and down the East Coast, harming our economy, businesses big and small, and the residents who depend on these goods.
A 2012 study showed that nearly ⅓ of all air traffic delays across the country originate from delays at airports in the New York metro area. If the 21,000 daily Amtrak passengers who use the tunnels shift to our already capacity constrained regional airports, it would be disastrous for air traffic nationwide.
With the first two stages of Gateway now complete or underway it would be ridiculous to stop. We have to be able to show that we can complete critical large-scale infrastructure projects on a timely, predictable basis. This is essential for attracting the kind of private investment that the President hopes to leverage as the basis for his infrastructure agenda. Private companies aren’t interested in taking on the kind of risk where the federal government can so easily change its mind about what it is willing to fund.
There is nearly unanimous support for the project from business, civic and political leaders. And in the past week the Governors of New York and New Jersey have solidified their funding commitments.
Gateway is critical public infrastructure. And public infrastructure has always required and will always require public investment. It is essential that the federal government meet its commitment to funding half of the project. We cannot build this project atop the quicksand of massive loans. That only shifts debt to future generations. If this Administration wants to lead on infrastructure and jobs, it must fund Gateway, and keep our region and the economy moving.