Posted by the Asbury
Park Press on 01/20/07
BY LARRY HIGGS
NEWARK — NJ Transit's bid to build a second Hudson River tunnel and an underground station complex beneath 34th Street in Manhattan cleared another hurdle Friday when the Federal Transit Administration approved a step that allows public hearings on the massive project.
NJ Transit received formal approval from the FTA to release the project's draft environmental impact statement, a step that allows the mass transit agency to schedule hearings in New Jersey and New York.
Release of the draft statement also is the next step in securing federal funding for the project.
"It's a major milestone," said Kris Kolluri, New Jersey's transportation commissioner. "It's a significant recognition by the federal government that this is an important project for the region and for the country."
After public hearings are held, NJ Transit officials can prepare the final environmental impact statement to submit to the FTA for approval, clearing the way for federal funding and the start of construction in 2009. The project could be complete by 2015.
The tunnel project's cost is estimated at $7 billion. The project has won bistate backing and the commitment of $2 billion in funding from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey toward the tunnel and related improvements. New Jersey has kicked in an additional $500 million. Preliminary engineering work on the project began in August. New Jersey officials hope the federal government will pay half of the cost.
The project already has some heavy hitters
behind it, most notably the four U.S. senators from the two states, and
the states' governors.
"It will add needed capacity for commuters, reduce the congestion on our highways and improve our environment," said U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J.
The new tunnel would double to four tracks
the routes between the states, giving NJ Transit flexibility when Amtrak
trains slow traffic. Amtrak owns, operates and maintains the Northeast
Corridor line into Penn Station, so its trains are given priority over
the local transit agency.
In a prepared statement, NJ Transit officials thanked the New Jersey and New York congressional delegations for their work on behalf of the project, including Lautenberg, U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both D-N.Y., and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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