CRANFORD, NJ - The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition hereby urges State leaders to reauthorize the Transportation Trust Fund with stable, dependable and sufficient sources of funding.

 

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By June 30, 2015 the Transportation Trust Fund will not be able to issue new debt to finance transportation capital improvements in New Jersey and will only be able to pay debt service on previous bond issues. The public discussion for New Jersey’s transportation needs has thus far focused, almost entirely, on the condition of highways and bridges, both State facilities and those of local governments. These needs are critical and must be addressed.

 

The Transportation Trust Fund is also the source of funding for the equally vital needs of NJ TRANSIT.  With the widespread growth and additional promise of transit-oriented development at virtually every Raritan Valley Line station, the corridor’s economy has become increasingly dependent on the continued maintenance and improvement of its rail service. These needs – both for ongoing State of Good Repair and new service expansions and improvement - must be factored into the calculations to determine the financial target for the Trust Fund and the timing when extra funds will be needed.

 

The future of the Raritan Valley Line rests on the accomplishments of a series of capital projects over the next ten years. NJ TRANSIT has long been engineering and advocating the Hunter Flyover just west of Newark and the triple tracking of the Lehigh Line between Cranford and Newark.  Those projects each have been estimated to cost $250 million. The Hunter Flyover would enable Raritan Valley Line trains to avoid the delay-prone crossing of multiple tracks on the busy Northeast Corridor (NEC)  by “flying over” those tracks on an overhead ramp, allowing the Raritan Valley Line trains to enter the NEC without conflict.  The triple-tracking of the 2-track Conrail-owned (former Lehigh Valley) portion of the Raritan Valley route would, by creating additional train capacity in that busy stretch, reduce the chances of freight trains delaying passenger trains and open up opportunities for additional passenger service on off-peak weekday hours and on weekends.

 

The other capital projects that are critical to the future success of the Raritan Valley are actually located on the NEC. They are both urgent and will require considerable NJ TRANSIT financial support. The most immediate is the replacement of the 100+ year old movable Portal Bridge which operates unreliably at the throat of the busiest stretch of passenger railroad in North America. NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak, owner of the NEC, have partnered on engineering a high fixed span replacement bridge. The engineering for the $900 million bridge is complete but no funds have been made available by either equal partner.  The second urgent project is Amtrak’s Gateway project by which two rail passenger tunnels would be built under the Hudson River. Amtrak recently released a report of the damage being done by the salts left behind by Superstorm Sandy, which flooded both existing tunnels. Amtrak’s current goal is to build the two new Gateway tunnels in the next ten years, so the existing tunnels can be sequentially cleaned and rebuilt. NJ TRANSIT could be asked to contribute as much as $2 billion to that expedited project.

 

The forthcoming Transportation Trust Fund solution must take these additional, extraordinary demands into account in fixing the amount of revenue to be raised – and when – to meet our state’s transportation capital needs. We ask legislative leadership and, especially, the legislators representing the towns served by the Raritan Valley Line to ask for an accounting that provides assurance these essential needs can be financed by any proposal for a revived Transportation Trust Fund. Our corridor’s economic vitality is at stake.

 

 

Peter S. Palmer, Chairman

Raritan Valley Rail Coalition