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Forum Roundup: Gateway Tunnel Will Provide Much-Needed New Transit Capacity

April 4th, 2016 by

Panelists Tom Wright, Adrian Mapp and Thomas Kean Jr. at the Redevelopment Forum's session on the Gateway Tunnel

Panelists Tom Wright, Adrian Mapp and Thomas Kean Jr. at the Redevelopment Forum’s session on the Gateway Tunnel

New Jersey’s transit network is one of the keys to the state’s success, facilitating access to New York City’s thriving job market for tens of thousands of New Jersey residents, noted Tom Wright, the President of the Regional Plan Association, at New Jersey Future’s March 11 Redevelopment Forum. But our rail transit system is bumping up against capacity constraints. If we want to continue increasing the number of people who get to work by transit – and to continue creating more transit-oriented neighborhoods for those commuters to live in – we need to expand the number of trains the system can accommodate.

Amtrak’s Gateway Tunnel, the current proposed solution to the capacity problem, was the topic of a lively discussion at the Redevelopment Forum. The three panelists – Wright, New Jersey Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., and Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp – all reiterated the importance of the tunnel project, which will double rail capacity under the Hudson, to the continued growth of New Jersey’s economy. Mr. Wright suggested that transit ridership is probably where most of the growth in commuting is going to occur in the future in the New York City region, given the city’s dominance in producing most of the region’s job growth over the last decade. (See Mr. Wright’s slides from the presentation, which contain a set of informative maps and graphics about the project’s scope and importance.) He also pointed out that New Jersey has a competitive advantage over other suburban parts of the metropolitan area in being positioned to fill future New York City jobs, thanks to the state having embraced more proactively the concept of transit-oriented development (TOD), as illustrated by programs like the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s Transit Village initiative and the Economic Development Authority’s Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit (which has since been subsumed into the Economic Redevelopment and Growth, or ERG, program but which has at least somewhat imbued its new host program with its emphasis on steering employers to transit-accessible locations).

The impacts of a new trans-Hudson tunnel will be local as well as regional. Mayor Mapp discussed numerous TOD projects under way in Plainfield, including one whose name, the South Avenue Gateway, the mayor jokingly said underscores the Gateway project’s importance. Like many mayors, Mayor Mapp recognizes the potential of his town’s two train stations (Plainfield and Netherwood) to act as catalysts for development and revitalization, but he needs to be assured that additional transit capacity will actually be available to carry the residents of new transit-focused developments to their jobs. The mayor also noted the significance of another aspect of the Gateway project – the expansion of one-seat-ride service to Manhattan for the Raritan Valley commuter rail line, which will benefit not just new TOD recruits but long-time Plainfield residents as well. He cited a recent Regional Plan Association study that found that property values for homes within half a mile of a train station increase by approximately $3,000 for every minute of commute time saved. Such time savings also contribute to quality of life, he observed.

Update: The Gateway project recently received another boost of forward momentum as $70 million was earmarked by the Port Authority’s commissioners for engineering work. While such signals of support for the project are encouraging, it is important to remember that the project’s ultimate survival is not a sure thing, as the canceled ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) tunnel illustrates.

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