New Jersey's 21st Legislative District

Senator Tom Kean, Jr.

Senator Tom Kean

Kean: Cost-Share Funding Agreement for Gateway Tunnel Underscores Need for Port Authority Reform

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The following editorial by Senate Republican leader Tom Kean on the need to ensure the cost-share funding agreement to build the Gateway Tunnel remains on track and enact vigorous Port Authority reforms was published in the Star-Ledger on Nov. 19, 2015:

Sen. Tom Kean discusses the need to ensure the cost-share funding agreement to build the Gateway Tunnel remains on track and enact vigorous Port Authority reforms (SenateNJ.com)

The federal government’s commitment to cover at least half of the cost of the Gateway Rail Tunnel project, as proposed by Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, is an extraordinary accomplishment for New Jersey and the linchpin to a project that is vitally important to the region’s and New Jersey’s economy.

With a fair funding agreement for a badly needed new Hudson rail tunnel in place, New Jersey commuters and taxpayers have a reason to celebrate and lawmakers here have an added incentive to enact languishing reforms.

For years New Jersey has been pushing for a balanced funding plan that involves all stakeholders fairly and doesn’t leave our already over-taxed residents responsible for an open tab. Under the agreement announced last week the federal government and Amtrak will pay for at least half of the planned $20 billion Gateway project and New Jersey and New York will be able to utilize low-interest federal loans to finance the remainder as inexpensively as possible.

This framework is a far cry from the lopsided ARC tunnel plan where federal officials could have gotten away with covering as little as a quarter of the total cost and New York was responsible for no funding.

The disastrous result would likely have left taxpayers here responsible for the majority of the bill, including billions in estimated extra costs for a poorly planned tunnel that inexplicably would have dead-ended under the basement of Macy’s in Herald Square instead of Penn Station.

The Gateway project will add two new rail tunnels under the Hudson to augment Amtrak’s deteriorating, 105-year-old tunnels, as well as two new tracks between Newark and New York, resulting in quicker commutes, more one-seat rides for commuters on NJ Transit lines and the ability to dramatically increase rail ridership capacity to Manhattan.
The project itself is estimated to generate tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity. Securing New Jersey’s access to New York City will also boost home values in the region and provide a significant incentive for employers to move into or remain in North Jersey.

It wasn’t always an easy road to get to this 50-50 cost-share plan but it has been an endeavor of patient diligence on both sides of the aisle and both sides of the Hudson River that’s been time and energy well spent.

There is still more to do, however, to ensure one of the nation’s largest infrastructure projects stays on track. A first action in New Jersey should be the enactment of legislation I sponsor bringing needed reform and accountability to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which will have significant responsibility in the development of the Gateway project.

As a part of the Gateway agreement, a development corporation, which will fall under the umbrella of the Port Authority, will be created to oversee the construction and management of the new rail lines. While I believe the Port Authority is up to this task, the magnitude and importance of this project demands the highest level of accountability and oversight be in place.

In December, I initiated an effort with leaders in both states that led to the introduction of comprehensive, common-ground Port Authority reform legislation that gained the support of both governors and was adopted by the legislature in New York. Unfortunately for commuters and taxpayers, the legislation has not been posted for a vote in New Jersey.

The momentous Gateway agreement presents a unique opportunity and added urgency for Trenton Democrats to join us as bipartisan, bistate reformers and enact workable, comprehensive Port Authority reform for all of the people we represent.

I am hopeful that we can continue the bipartisan cooperation that made the Gateway agreement possible to now put these needed protections into place.

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