Gottheimer, King Introduce Bipartisan Bill Demanding “Doomsday Plan” For Tunnel Failure

Mar 11, 2019

Legislation Part of Larger Push to Fully Fund the Gateway Project

Above: King, Gottheimer, Kevin Corbett — the Executive Director of NJ Transit — Jerry Zaro — the New Jersey Representative to the Gateway Development Corporation — and Steve Cohen — the New York Representative to the Gateway Development Corporation — demand a “Doomsday Plan” (left to right)

NEW YORK – Today, U.S. Congressmen Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05) and Peter King (NY-02) introduced a new bipartisan bill demanding a contingency plan for the “Doomsday” scenario if one, or both, of the two North River Tunnels is shut down beneath the Hudson River. They also stressed the immediate need for the Gateway Tunnel.

The North River Tunnel tracks carry 200,000 travelers daily and are crumbling after damage from more than 100 years of use and flooding during Superstorm Sandy. Last week, the Regional Plan Association released “A Preventable Crisis,” a report outlining the catastrophic economic consequences of a tunnel being shut down.

The bill would require the Secretary of Transportation to publish a report within 60 days that details the Department of Transportation’s contingency plan in the case of a track shutdown.

“Today, Congressman King and I are introducing legislation to force the Administration to give answers for their ‘Doomsday Plan,’” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05). “Our bill will demand answers from the Department of Transportation on, if a tunnel goes down, how will the economy work? How will people get into the city and back home? What is their contingency plan?”

“These tunnels are a vital and irreplaceable conduit for our nation’s economy. Ensuring its maintenance, safety and reliability is a national concern and responsibility. It is too precarious a situation for human lives and economic devastation. A plan and answer is needed,” said Congressman Peter King (NY-02).

“We are very grateful to Congressman King and Gottheimer for the leadership, which they have extended during this process and also for the new legislation, which I have dubbed ‘Plan B,’ and to thank them also for the example they have set in demonstrating that bipartisan cooperation is alive and well,” Jerry Zaro, Chairman of Gateway Development Corporation, said, “We have to believe that they must know something we don’t, in Washington. Because otherwise, a responsible government could not leave this project unfunded.”

Steve Cohen, Vice-President of the Gateway Development Corporation, “When we look at Gateway, I think we can all agree that it’s among the most, if not the most important infrastructure project that is currently facing the country, and the question we’re always asked — because of the political realities we’re all facing —  is how does something like this get done? How do you get traction in Washington? And the answer is the two gentlemen to my right and left [King and Gottheimer]. It has been an extraordinary experience to work with people who understand that the most important thing if you’re representing the people of this country is to put political differences aside and focus on what needs to be done. This project needs to be done.”

Video of the event can be found HERE.

Congressman Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery can be found below:

Thank you all for being here — at Penn Station where 200,000 daily commuters travel between New York and New Jersey — to discuss the question on the top of every single one of those commuter’s mind: What will happen to my commute if one or both of the train tunnels between New York and New Jersey shuts down? How will I get to work and how will I get home?

Later today, Congressman King and I will be introducing our legislation requiring the US Department of Transportation to outline their plan for a “Doomsday” contingency scenario if one of the tunnels into Penn Station shuts down.  We are also here to sound the alarm for the Gateway Project, to finally build a new tunnel, and stop the endless bureaucratic delays and political games.

This goes without saying: Our trains are critical to New Jersey’s economy – and to our region’s economy.

Every morning, thousands of workers get onto a New Jersey Transit or Amtrak train in New Jersey and arrive here in Penn Station to get to work. They face a grueling commute as it is, with far too many delays, on outdated system.  Employers here in New York City rely on them for their businesses and lots of families can’t wait for them to come home at night.

But here’s the problem: the 110-year-old tunnels into New York City are literally crumbling. There is one track in and one track out, and the Chairman of Amtrak said himself that one of the tunnels would likely have to be shut down within 5 years.

If just one of the tunnels goes down, we would go from 24 trains an hour to six.

I recently got a front-row seat to this problem recently when I toured the North River Tunnels. I could see every crack and exposed wire. Every effect of Hurricane Sandy. And there were plenty.    

Now, they are trying their best to patch up the cracks, but part-time fixes – scotch tape and band-aids – are not enough.  So, it’s time we consider seriously what will happen if we fail to fix them and lose the war against those cracks.

The Hudson River Tunnel connects 20% of America’s GDP. If it couldn’t run, America would lose $100 million every day, according to the Northeast Corridor Commission.  At the broadest level, the national economy would lose $16 billion over a four-year span, equivalent to the loss of 33,000 jobs a year. If you are a New Jersey homeowner, a tunnel failure will cost our state $22 billion in property values.

Beyond direct economic loss: 200,000 people couldn’t get to work and home.  So, here’s what we want to know from the federal Department of Transportation, which somehow downgraded this project a moderate-to-low priority: What’s their contingency plan when we have to shut one or both tunnels down? It’s likely that the Gateway project won’t be built by then, despite our pleading with the Administration to help get it under way.  So, if the tunnels are shuttered, how will we deal with this blow to our region’s – and America’s – economy? How will people get to work and home?

Our legislation requires the Department of Transportation to develop and publish that continency plan within sixty days.

Some outside experts have outlined a few potential scenarios.

When 200,000 people move from trains to roads and planes – what will happen to the transit options which are already congested, overtaxed, and crumbling.

We can’t sit in traffic any more. People will have to leave their homes the night before to get to work on time.

The RPA anticipates 38,000 additional crashes every year and – with increased smog and pollutants from cars parked on the bridges.

Many think it’s impossible to add to the roads, given how clogged they are already.

Either way, this is a grim picture. A literal doomsday. But the Administration thinks that this is a project of “low to moderate” importance, a decrease from the rating of “medium to high” it was given in the past administration.

Well, if the Administration is so confident that everything is fine, then obviously they must know something we don’t know about how we are going to deal with this inevitable disaster.   

That’s why I’m so eager to hear what their backup plan is.

I know that a lot of our New Jersey businesses would like to hear it, too.  I hear it from business owners all of the time: they are increasingly having trouble recruiting people and companies to come to — and stay in –New Jersey because of our crumbling roads, bridges, and tunnels. All the traffic. Other states are luring them with their new, wider roads and shorter commuting times.

Finally, the incredible thing about all of this is that New Jersey and New York even have to fight for these resources in the first place, given how much we contribute to the national economy.  Our taxes are too high and should be cut. But, in the meantime, my District has historically received 33 cents in federal spending for every federal tax dollar we pay in. Moocher States like Mississippi get $4.38 – and they, along with the Administration and other Moocher States, are standing in the way of getting it built. It’s outrageous.

America can afford to avoid this Doomsday, and, here in the greatest country in the world, we all have a responsibility, and the ability, to do whatever we can, at all levels of government to fix this tunnel and our crumbling infrastructure.  We can’t afford delay a day longer.

Thank you and God bless you.  

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