Upcoming Amtrak track work into Penn Station this summer, was the focus of an informational session in Montclair held at the Buzz Aldrin Middle School auditorium on Wednesday, May 29. The upgrades are part of “The Gateway Program,” a comprehensive rail investment project that aims to improve current services but will cause temporary service adjustments over the course of the next three to four months for commuters.
Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill and NJ Transit Executive Director Kevin Corbett, along with other NJ transit officials, provided details on this summer’s commute into Manhattan. Several dozen attendees learned more about the plans for the addition of a two-track Hudson River rail tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan and the ultimate replacement of the Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River. Fares will also be adjusted to offset the cost of PATH or NY Waterway ferry options.
NJ Transit plans to implement service changes weekdays only, starting Monday, June 17 through Friday, September 6. The service will temporarily divert select Midtown Direct rail service on the Montclair-Boonton Line and one North Jersey Coast Line train to Hoboken, in order to accommodate Amtrak repair work that will take two tracks at Penn Station out of service. Sherrill has been in support of the proposal, estimated at $30 billion once completed. The aim is to help ease delays on the Northeast Corridor, considered one of the most heavily used passenger rail lines in the nation.
During the presentation, Sherrill discussed the decaying Portal Bridge, a two-track, moveable swing-span railroad bridge over the Hackensack River in Kearny and Secaucus, as having been “an incredible marvel of engineering,” but was now considerably damaged by SuperStorm Sandy, affecting the quality of transit for commuters in those tunnels. The bridge was opened in 1910 and built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in conjunction with service to Penn Station.
Replacement of the bridge lies in the first phase of the Gateway Project. However, funding for the project is currently stalled due to funding disputes between state and federal governments. The estimated cost for replacing the bridge is at $1.5 billion. Only New York, New Jersey, NJ Transit and Amtrak are in agreement to contribute funding, while the Trump Administration has refused to provide any funding for the project, according to reports. Sherrill originally co-sponsored the Transportation Funding Fairness Act, a bill that would allow states to decide how to obligate federal loans for projects like Gateway. If it becomes law, it would free up funding for the project.
“Many commuters have seen the ever decreasing qualities of transit,” Sherrill said. “Congress has appropriated the money for the Portal Bridge project, but that money is sitting with the Secretary of Transportation.”
According to Sherrill, the Gateway Project timeline projection, which many consider to be a long process, would reap benefits in less time than a decade.
“For some of us, we think of it as a 10-year long process,” she explained. “But we will double our ability to get in and out of the city by having four fully functional tunnels in and out of Manhattan. Right now we have two, which will be refurbished. Before we come back to that final goal, with even one new tunnel, we’d start to see more access because even with one new tunnel, we will have better efficiencies. So it’s not a 10-year wait to start to see some improvements.”
Sherrill stressed the importance of making the funding of the project a priority in Congress and having it signed off sooner than later.
Sherrill also discussed the growing trend regarding the residents of New Jersey relocating to other states. According to a recent study, more people have moved out of the Garden State in 2018 than in any other state.
“We have a state with the highest number of people leaving in the entire nation,” she emphasized. “I think there are several reasons for that, the high cost of living being one. But the more miserable the commute into the city gets, the more people don’t want to live here. This is a key quality of life issue. It comes down to the Gateway Project being funded.”
More information about summer commuting can be found at njtransit.com/inform.