NEW YORK – Most of New Jersey’s top elected officials in the state and federal governments rode a special train into Manhattan Monday to view the deteriorating Hudson River tunnel and sharpen their pitch for a project to repair and expand the infrastructure.

Gov. Phil Murphy noted the Superstorm Sandy-damaged North River tunnel that carries trains between New Jersey and New York was built in President Roosevelt’s administration – Teddy, not FDR.

“It’s pretty alarming to say the least,” Murphy said. He said the tunnels opened in 1910: “It was a feat of engineering prowess then, but it is long past due to be updated and augmented.”

Murphy says federal funds are needed to replace the Portal Bridge and build a new tunnel, what’s known as the Gateway project. Once the new tunnel is built, the current tubes would be repaired one at a time.

He said New Jersey has pledged money for the Portal Bridge and should be allowed to take a federal loan to pay its share for the $13 billion Gateway plan.

“I plead with the federal government to step up and do its share. And if it does, I promise you New Jersey won’t let you down,” Murphy said.

Sen. Bob Menendez called the Hudson tunnels the artery that makes the Northeast economy “pound successfully.”

“From my perspective, we are sitting on a transportation ticking time bomb. And we do not have the luxury of waiting,” Menendez said.

Sen. Cory Booker says 20 percent of the United States economy relies on the Northeast Corridor and that the longer the project is delayed, the more it will cost.

“Every aspect of common sense would say that in the most economically productive region arguably of the whole planet Earth that we would be investing in the things that are going to make sure that we run smoothly and efficiently and avoid crisis – which a crisis is coming, if we don’t act quickly,” Booker said.

 

The tunnel is owned by Amtrak but also used by NJ Transit. Amtrak chairman Anthony Coscia said the tunnel is safe – but carrying a very heavy load that is going to have to be scaled back at some point, impacting commuters.

“It is really a question of trying to beat the clock and put us in a better operating position than we are in today, and that’s a fight against time that none of us can really predict,” Coscia said.

The Trump administration has been unsupportive of Gateway funding for the last two years, though $541 million for the project was included in spending bills last year, in large part because U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey chaired the House Appropriations Committee.

Frelinghuysen has since retired – and been replaced by a Democrat, part of the change that helped Democrats gain control of the House. A second New Jersey freshman, Rep. Tom Malinowski, said his party will be writing the spending and transportation bills – a change in Gateway’s favor.

“We have a new House of Representatives. That’s the big change, and that’s what gives us leverage,” Malinowski said.

“We, Democrats in the New Jersey delegation, are a huge force within the Democratic caucus,” he said. “We will be writing the spending bills. We will be writing the transportation bills this year. We’ve just seen what a united Democratic caucus can do in terms of leverage with the White House. I think we can bring that to bear on transportation and Gateway in particular this year.”