Politicians, public and railroad officials met on Friday, Oct. 8 to celebrate the opening of the $24 million Liberty Corridor Freightway, a rail freight route to and from the Port of New York and New Jersey operated by CSX Corp.
The public-private venture was allocated $10 million from federal funding designated for the Liberty Corridor, an economic-improvement program that received $100 million in funding from Congress several years ago thanks to the efforts of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). The program’s goal is to solve transportation issues of several different kinds for the state’s economic benefit and to prepare for increased transportation in the future.
The announcement was held at the North Bergen CSX terminal, where afterward attendees boarded a train and toured the corridor.
“I just hope that we will be able to continue to work with the state of New Jersey to bring federal dollars in, in a way that will be powerfully used.” – Robert Menendez
Work on the Liberty Corridor Freightway began in January 2010 and was completed last month. It included blasting through two Jersey City tunnels made of solid rock that date back to President Abraham Lincoln’s administration, and installing brick and concrete liners so that 21st century double-stack CSX trains would have clearance. Construction also included raising two inactive rail bridges and lowering 1,550 feet of track for further clearance. Previously only single stack trains could leave this area.
Overpass roads have allowed commuters to pass over the freightway in Jersey City and the southern portion of North Bergen instead of waiting while long freight trains pass by. The last overpass, near the CSX terminal on 69th Street in North Bergen is slated for completion in 2011.
The $65 million New Jersey Department of Transportation project, which began in 2008, would allow traffic from West Side Avenue’s southbound lane to go over the rail lines and bring drivers to Tonnelle Avenue without delays.
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco said that he suspected the project would not be completed on time because the only work that he has seen on the site to date is “preparation.”
“As long as the trains are not blocking traffic they can use as many trains as they want,” said Sacco, who said that there were no traffic problems further south due to the roadways in place.
Instead of motorists waiting for long freight trains to pass, CSX spokesperson Bob Sullivan said that CSX’s trains will now be more efficient because they can double-stack rail containers.
“You’re probably looking at a 70 percent increase in freight traffic that is going to be flowing through this country in the next 20 years,” he said.
Sullivan said that one CSX train carries the equivalent of 250 trucks, emits one-third of the nitrous oxide and particulate matter, and can take stress off highways since they might not meet a public road until the Midwest.
How to use federal funding
During his speech Menendez spoke about having a vision of New Jersey, where these projects could bring in more companies, product development, and commerce growth.
Only a day after Gov. Christopher Christie announced that he would cancel the $8.7 billion Trans-Hudson passenger rail tunnel, he said that federal funding needed to be used correctly. This separate project was placed on a two-week reprieve instead of being cancelled later that day.
“I just hope that we will be able to continue to work with the state of New Jersey to bring federal dollars in, in a way that will be powerfully used,” Menendez said. “It’s very tough in this competitive atmosphere that we are in this nation, with limited dollars, to see those dollars be rejected.”
New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson remarked that lately he has felt more like a treasurer.
“Everything is about the dollar, as the senator knows too well,” he said.
He said these sorts of projects were better off funded through private-sector companies and their “ingenuity,” because public-sector agencies have a “very difficult time” handling them.
Director of the Port Commerce Department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Richard Larrabee said he believed everyone present at the press conference on Oct. 8 knew the importance of transportation in relation to the economy. He said that this year container shipments were up 17 percent, while the rail business had increased by 22 percent.
Larrabee stressed that in combination of the Bayonne Bridge improvements, as well as others slated, their port would be able to handle increased cargo shipments when the Panama Canal improvements are completed in 2015.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.