Residents of Hudson County have raised a number of concerns about the possible impact of the Hudson Tunnel Project, a proposed new passenger train tunnel connecting New Jersey and New York. The $13 billion project would run under a portion of Hoboken and Weehawken, plunge through the Palisades bedrock under Union City, emerge in North Bergen, and connect with existing lines at Secaucus Junction. Ultimately, the line would end in Penn Station in New York City.
Construction of the 4.8-mile tunnel will affect residents throughout Hudson County, officials said during a series of public hearings over a five-day period in early August.
Officials from Weehawken, Hoboken and other towns spoke out during the hearings hoping to alleviate some of the negative impact the project would impose.
For example, one of the tunnel’s three ventilation shafts, as well as a construction staging area, would be located in the Shades neighborhood at the Weehawken/Hoboken border.
Those who spoke at hearings in Secaucus, Hoboken, and Union City were about equally for and against the route as well as the impact of construction.
A large majority, however, appeared to be concerned about the project’s lack of an environmental study on impacts during the construction, such as possible damage to existing buildings due to vibrations of drilling, and the dust raised by movement of stone and dirt.
The proposed tunnel is the second attempt to improve New Jersey-New York rail infrastructure in the past decade.
Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) was an $8.7 billion commuter rail project to increase passenger service capacity between Secaucus Junction and Manhattan that would have included a tunnel under the Hudson River. Construction began in mid-2009, slated for completion in 2018, but Gov. Chris Christie canceled it in 2010 after $600 million had been spent on the project, citing the possibility of cost overruns and the state’s lack of funds.
Another aftermath of Sandy
Trains from throughout the eastern region currently use a single two-tube tunnel through Hudson County called the North River Tunnel. In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy inflicted serious damage onto the 110-year old-tunnel when salt water poured into it, escalating deterioration of the tunnel itself as well as creating serious long-term problems with the electrical system.
Both Amtrak and NJ Transit service was cancelled for five days after the storm subsided. While the tunnel was restored to service and is currently safe to travel, the decay continues, and service is frequently interrupted to fix problems.
The only way to thoroughly repair the system, officials say, is to shut it down for an extensive period of time.
But since this tunnel carries more than 114,000 people in and out of the city on 450 trains each weekday, a long shutdown is not possible without an alternative route. And estimates from a study predict a significant increase in ridership between New Jersey to New York over the last two decades.
Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan Association has reported that daily ridership has jumped from just under 230,000 in the 1990s to more than 300,000 in 2009. Current estimates as of last year show that more than 409,000 people go to New York from New Jersey daily. Of these, about 38 percent use rail, and about 33.5 percent use buses.
Would take seven to 10 years
The proposed new Hudson Tunnel, when complete, would allow the old tunnel to shut down for comprehensive repairs. When the original tunnel is repaired it would handle the increased demand for transportation in and out of the city.
Construction will increase levels of noise, truck traffic, and “environmental justice” –impact on low income and minority populations – all of which would cease once the project is completed.
The new rail right-of-way will extend from County Road just east of Secaucus Junction along the southern side of an existing rail line.
A new 70-foot long and 25-foot wide rail bridge will extend over Secaucus Road near Jersey City. The new line would run to Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen through a new tunnel through the Palisades, then run under Union City where it would gradually descend and run under Hoboken, the Hudson River and into Manhattan.
A 800-foot-long, 24-foot-wide surface road will run parallel with the western side Hudson Bergen Light Rail line in Hoboken to allow construction equipment to reach the Shades area of Weehawken where the tunnel through the Palisades will be located. A similar road will be constructed along the rail line in Secaucus.
Air shaft, contaminated dirt, and truck traffic are big concerns
Residents and public officials at several of the hearing varied in their responses to the project, from opposing the project’s proposed path entirely to making suggestions to reduce impact.
The ventilation shaft would be located on the Hoboken /Weehawken border at W. 18th Street in Weehawken near the existing Hudson Bergen Light Rail line.
Residents speaking at one of two hearings held in Jersey City said they were very concerned about dust hazards resulting from the project, saying that the construction area is known to contain toxic pollution.
“Why can’t you build this shaft somewhere where nobody lives,” said one frustrated Hoboken resident, who left shortly after making his comments.
Along with health concerns, residents said vibrations and truck traffic near the staging area would have an impact of the quality of life.
Several residents from Hoboken said the area contains sewer operations for a number of towns, and that the proposed area has a significant number of kids living and playing in it.
The project, which appears to be fast tracked by the federal government in order to help alleviate the problems with the current train traffic, will not have a full environmental impact study. Many of the residents, including leaders from the Sierra Club, pressed for NJ Transit officials to conduct one.
Several residents noted that the area is already overburdened with traffic and is associated pollution from traffic using the nearby Lincoln Tunnel.
Jacqueline Romero of Union City said she was very concerned about the impact of this on real estate values.
“Who is going to want to move there with this going on?” she asked, pressing for a test of air quality.
She and others also noted that Hoboken, Weehawken, and Union City would not get any benefit from the project. The tunnel would pass through these communities, but would offer no station that would give them more rapid access to Manhattan, nor will these residents receive any tax benefit as a host community.
Joseph Rovito, a resident of the Shades section of Weehawken, was very upset by the last minute notice residents were given about the project.
“There seems to be a lack of transparency in all this and it is appalling that there is not going to be a proper soil study,” he said.
Benjamin Griggs of Liberty Realty and a resident of Union City said there will be a huge negative impact on property values in Weehawken and Hoboken with zero benefit to the community.
He said he was very concerned about the truck traffic in and out of the construction site, and its negative impact on an already traffic-challenged section of the county. Estimates from NJ Transit put the number of trucks going to and from the site between 50 and 70 per day.
Tom Geroski, currently a Union City resident, said he previously lived in Hoboken, and recalled the traffic problems the area faced when the Willow Avenue Bridge was being repaired, and predicted similar traffic problems as a result of this.
John Kenny, a Hoboken resident, said he favored the tunnel because of its need for the region, but also had concerns about congestion and the proposed airshaft, asking if the number of shafts might be reduced from three to two.
He also asked if this project would have an impact on the flood prevention work Hoboken is currently involved in.
“Instead of trucks bring debris out of the site, you might use the Light Rail line. It is not in operation over night,” he suggested.
Weehawken and Hoboken officials propose other ideas
Weehawken Councilwoman Carmela Silvestri-Ehret said the township was proposing several changes to the project, including possibly relocating the construction staging area to North Bergen where NJ Transit already owns property. She said much of the materials could be removed from the tunnel site on an existing rail line on along Tonnelle Avenue.
Hoboken Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher said she was also concerned about traffic in and out of the site, but also about how the area might benefit from the project. She suggested that NJ Transit might establish a junction site that would establish a link between this rail line and the existing light rail line. Hoboken has been looking for another light rail station to be located in that area, and this could provide an opportunity to establish one.
Fisher also raised concerns about impact on some of the residential property on the Hoboken side of the boarder, since this project would require drilling through bedrock while some of the buildings on in North Hoboken are built on landfill.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.