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Opinion

No tunnel vision: Gateway plan on right track

We risk the nation’s economic engine if we don’t upgrade old infrastructure.

Under Amtrak's proposed Gateway project, a new Hudson

Under Amtrak's proposed Gateway project, a new Hudson River Tunnel will be built so the existing North River Tunnel under the Hudson River, shown here, can be repaired. Photo Credit: Amtrak

Our nation’s most urgent infrastructure need is the Gateway Program. No one says we shouldn’t replace the 107-year-old tunnel under the Hudson River. The one-track-in, one-track-out tunnel was damaged by superstorm Sandy. But not everyone agrees on how to do it.

The Gateway Program Development Corp. has a plan to eliminate points of failure and build capacity. The first phase starts with a new Portal North Bridge to replace a movable span that breaks down as it opens and closes, followed by the creation of two single-track tubes in a new tunnel to provide reliable passenger service. The new tunnel would allow for the existing tunnel to be rehabilitated, giving us four tubes to carry more trains and more passengers to and from Penn Station.

The advancements would bring reliable, efficient 21st century transportation to a link that serves 20 percent of the U.S. economy. But some argue the plan is too expensive or too ambitious. They want a scaled-down version with a one-tube tunnel, a single four-track bridge and no new capacity at Penn.

These are bad ideas. Here’s why:

1. A single new tube with a single new track isn’t safe or cost efficient, won’t create reliability or allow for future capacity growth. The Hudson Tunnel Project plan calls for boring the two tubes simultaneously. Building one alone would save little and wouldn’t allow for greater reliability.

2. One four-track portal bridge won’t work. Four tracks wouldn’t align properly with existing Northeast Corridor tracks, causing operational difficulties. A lower, fixed bridge would likely and rightly be rejected by the Coast Guard. It is myopic to suggest obstructing marine traffic to improve rail travel.

3. We can’t ignore Penn Station. The station has to be expanded for more capacity. Users have increased from about 200,000 to 600,000 today. Train movements have doubled with no ability to eke new capacity out of the existing 21 tracks and platforms.

Gateway naysayers also argue that costs have grown, but that is not true. Cost projections are $1.7 billion for the new Portal North Bridge, $11.1 billion for the new Hudson tunnel, and $1.6 billion to rehab the damaged tubes.

We are risking the nation’s economic engine if and when the old infrastructure fails.

Tom Wright is a founding member of the Build Gateway Now Coalition. Stephen Sigmund is chief of public outreach and spokesman for the Gateway Program Development Corp.

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