Township Committee Supports Hudson River Train Tunnel
But it also states it agrees with the governor's concerns on funding.
While the Millburn Township Committee agrees with Gov. Chris Christie the cost of a new Hudson River train tunnel shouldn't have to be borne entirely by state taxpayers, it also believes the project needs to be completed.
Tuesday night, the committee unanimously voted to support the construction of the Hudson River train tunnel, also known as the ARC project. But the committee's resolution also said it did not want the cost to be a burden to New Jersey taxpayers alone. The committee first discussed the issue and the potential resolution, which was proposed by committee member James Suell, a day before Christie canceled the project because of financial concerns.
Christie said in early October he was pulling the plug of the "Access to the Region's Core" project after state officials said costs would run at least $2 billion more than the initial $8.7 billion price tag. Christie initially supported the project. But he gave it a two-week grace period before taking several more days to reach his decision.
Mayor Thomas McDermott said the resolution supports the governor's position, but it also supports a plan for a train tunnel because it would help the community.
Suell said the federal government is going to disperse the funding earmarked for the project elsewhere, so it's important to act now. Deputy Mayor Sandra Haimoff said the resolution encourages the governor to go out and get the money for the project because it's needed.
"Once the money is gone, it's not coming back," Suell said.
The resolution the committee passed cites how commuters from Millburn-Short Hills would save an average of 10 minutes per day on their commute. An interactive station map at rpa.org for estimated travel time reductions because of ARC shows the time to New York Penn Station would be reduced by 26 percent from Millburn and 23 percent from Short Hills. Additionally, the resolution cites how property values near train stations are expected to increase on average by $30,000.
But the resolution acknowledges Christie's concerns with the project. It states:
"WHEREAS, in light of the aforementioned positive attributes to our community, state and region the Township acknowledges the Governor's efforts to assure that the taxpayers of New Jersey are not solely responsible for any cost overruns rather, that they are equally shared by the three parties involved and that the Township's support is contingent upon the success of receiving that assurance."
Suell said he the committee is alone in passing a resolution to support the train tunnel, but he will now try to get other municipalities to support it. It was hard for him to ask other communities to pass a resolution if his own committee had not passed it.
But there were concerns from former committee member and mayor, Elaine Becker. She renewed her comments from the previous meeting on how she doesn't like the current proposal and how it would not properly connect with Grand Central Station and the east side of Manhattan. She said it would make more sense for NJTransit to partner with Amtrak.
"It's premature to support a project that has been killed," she said. She added the committee should wait for a better plan to support.
Suell said Amtrak officials have said its premature to talk about partnering and it would take an additional 15-20 years for a tunnel to become a reality. Plus the issues of Amtrak having a priority on using the tunnel would continue, which causes some of the current delays, he said. He acknowledged Becker's concerns, but the debate over the plan cannot continue if there's no project.
Robert Tillotson, a committee member, said the committee is not in the position to debate one plan over another. Instead, the committee is saying something is needed and not to send the money back to the federal government.
Haimoff said Christie did not kill the project because he wanted another plan. It was because he could not support the cost. The debate over that plan is long gone, she said.
Committee member Daniel Baer did not participate in the discussion, citing how he works for the firm involved with the design of the Hudson River tunnel. He also said he has not spoken with any committee member about the project.