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The nightmare that awaits N.J. if a Hudson rail tunnel is forced to close

Wednesday, July 1, 2015   (0 Comments)
Share | 06/29/15

If one of Amtrak's 105 year old, storm damaged Hudson River tunnels has to be closed for emergency repairs, be prepared for a commuting nightmare. Even if you work in the suburbs. While officials said they are talking about "what if" contingency plans, they warned commuters that everyone's trip to work will be affected, even if they don't ride the train or work in New York.  "It would create a transportation nightmare that has so many negative ramifications for our economy and our quality of life,"  said Jamie Fox, New Jersey Transportation Commissioner. "Anyone who thinks if one (tunnel) gets shut down, that life will go on normal is sadly mistaken. It will affect everyone." Amtrak officials sounded the alarm last October that the tunnels had 20-years of life (or less) left before they'd have to be closed one year each for repair. If one tunnel has to be closed for emergency repairs, the number of trains per hour would dwindle from 24 to six, said Craig Schulz, an Amtrak spokesman. 

"There is no silver bullet that will solve the transportation problem if the tunnel goes down," Fox said. "We've dealt with crisis before, 9/11, the Manhattan blackout, (so) there are contingency plans. But those incidents involve a couple of days, not an extended period of time." Most rail commuters will switch to a bus or car, "causing significant traffic everywhere, on any highway in northern New Jersey," Fox said, naming some of the states biggest highways, I-80, 78, 287, Routes 4, 3, 17, 46, the Parkway and Turnpike as candidates likely to see more traffic.  "Everyone will be affected, including people who are not on the system (to and from New York)," said Jeffrey Zupan, Regional Plan Association senior fellow. "If you drive, more people will be driving. With one million trips a day, everyone will be affected, not just train people." What would your commute look like? Very different, longer and crowded, experts said.

"We're leaning on a network that over the last 50 years has not laid a single new lane or track across the river," said Andrew Lynn, Port Authority director of planning and regional development.  A plan would likely modeled on what was done after Hurricane Sandy and the 9/11 terrorist attack, which relied heavily on ferries to replace closed rail tunnels, said Peter Rogoff, U.S. Undersecretary of Transportation. "Absent of that, I know of no such plans," Rogooff said. "[The tunnels] aren't going to fail tomorrow, but we have no time to waste." "There is a regional discussion, informed by Sandy," she said. "We'd run more ferries, re-route some buses and encourage people to work from home."  Those plans would depend on the condition of the tunnels and duration of repairs. "Obviously it would depend on the level of shut down. It would be catastrophic for the region," she said. What are the constraints? Except for ferries, the bridges, tunnels and PATH are maxed out or close to it.

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