By Ed Rendell
January 25, 2018
Gridlock, delayed trains, rising tempers and frayed nerves. Sound familiar? If you are a traveler along the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, DC, you know too well the frustrations and delays associated with trying to get into and out of Manhattan.
But government officials who don’t ride the route should be frustrated, too — the system’s failures are a major economic drag.
Though it’s one of the most heavily traveled routes, the transportation network relies on tunnels built when William Howard Taft was president and on bridges that and are due for wider, modern replacements. In short, it’s a recipe for chaos, bringing harsh economic consequences for the region — and the country.
The North Hudson River Tunnel, completed in 1910 in a feat of engineering, has played a pivotal role in the economic growth of the metropolitan region and the entire United States. The NEC region is home to more than 51 million people and four of the 10 largest metropolitan areas in the nation.
The economies of all these cities are connected, and together generate 20 percent of the entire US gross domestic product. As a result, when there are delays and disruptions, there are real life consequences.
Whether it’s a businessman missing a critical client presentation, a worker dependent upon hourly wages having to clock in late or a parent failing to make it to their child’s school event — everyone in the region, ultimately, is paying the costs.
In recent years, there has been a growing chorus of concern about the deteriorating condition of the tunnel. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the damage caused by the inundation of salt water into the tunnel as a result of Superstorm Sandy has added to the urgency of the situation.
Currently, the tunnel services 24 trains every hour and transports 200,000 passengers daily, on average. If one of the two tubes in the tunnel has to be shut down for extensive rehabilitation, the remaining tube could only accommodate six trains per hour, according to recent estimates. The disruption this scenario would cause is unthinkable.
Some have said that this is a local challenge to be dealt with by the states of New York and New Jersey without any federal role. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Corridor serves 800,000 daily riders and 2,000 trains. If a critical link along the Northeast Corridor were to shut down, the sheer economic consequences would be immense.
In fact, the Northeast Corridor Commission (created by Congress in 2008) has projected that the US economy would lose $100 million per day — or $36.5 billion per year — if the NEC were to shut down.
There is a solution within our grasp. After years of pointing fingers, officials from New York and New Jersey have agreed to provide half of the cost of this enormously important project. Until recently, they were made to believe that the federal government would work with them to fund and finance the balance.
Now is not the time for Washington to back away from addressing arguably the most urgent infrastructure project in America, yet Uncle Sam appears to be getting cold feet.
Officials in the Trump administration have repeatedly signaled that their $1 trillion infrastructure proposal will include incentives for states and cities that have made efforts to put up funding for such projects. Encouraging greater private investment is also a goal. I can’t think of another critical infrastructure project that meets these two criteria more than Gateway.
Yes, the price tag for this multibillion-dollar project is eye popping. But each year of delay only adds to the cost. According to the Regional Plan Association, each year of delay costs an extra $1 billion.
What are we waiting for? It’s time for all levels of government and the private sector to come together and get this project moving. Let’s get to work.
Ed Rendell is a former Pennsylvania governor and current co-chair of Building America’s Future.