New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy called conditions in Amtrak’s North River tunnel “alarming,” after he and members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation surveyed the 108-year-old tunnel on Monday.
The tour was part of a renewed effort to push for the federal government to fund its half of the stalled $14.5 billion Gateway Plan, which would fix the current tunnel, build a new one, and replace the century-old Portal North Bridge.
“It's pretty alarming to say the least,” Murphy said at a press conference at Penn Station in Manhattan following the tour. “We came through a tunnel system and a network that was built during the term of President Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt in 1910. It was a feat of engineering then, but it is long past due to be updated.”
Under a 2015 plan struck with former President Obama, New Jersey and New York committed to pay for half of the funds needed for the first phase of the Gateway Plan. Repairs on the Portal North Bridge have begun, but the Trump Administration has denied the existence of any 50-50 payment scheme and has so far refused to fund the tunnel project.
The North River Tunnel, which sustained heavy damage during Hurricane Sandy, connects Amtrak's northeast corridor and New Jersey transit lines to New York Penn Station, with about 200,000 passengers and 450 trains passing through it each day, according to Amtrak. The tunnel is safe but requires heavy maintenance each day to keep it functioning, officials said. The U.S. Department of Transportation now insists that most of the riders who rely on the infrastructure are local, and that local governments should be responsible for making the repairs.
But Democrats like New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez who gathered to view the tunnel Monday, contend the project is vital to the whole region, and thus the health of the U.S. economy.
“This is project of national significance…Twenty percent of the entire country’s gross domestic product depends upon this region and this is artery that makes that pound successfully,” Menendez said. “We are sitting on a transportation ticking time-bomb and we do not have the luxury of waiting.”
A spokesperson for the United States Department of Transportation didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
Gwynne Hogan is an associate producer at WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @GwynneFitz.