In an attempt to urge Gov. Chris Christie to reconsider his decision to halt work on the Hudson River commuter rail tunnel, members of the New Jersey AFL-CIO will rally Tuesday at the North Bergen construction site.
State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech is hoping thousands of the union's members will turn out.
"The choice is clear," Wowkanech said Monday. "Should we continue with construction of a tunnel that will double passenger rail capacity between New Jersey and New York, create 6,000 construction jobs and 45,000 permanent jobs, increase our state's property values by $18 billion and cut air pollution by 66,000 pounds of carbon monoxide a year? Or should we give back $3 billion in federal aid and be left with a $600 million hole in the ground?"
The construction site is at 801 Tonnelle Ave. and the rally is scheduled to begin at 11:00 a.m. Wowkanech said the rally is being held at the site to, as he described it, demonstrate the foolishness of failing to continue the project.
"We are urging everybody who is concerned about the future economic competitiveness in New Jersey — workers, business leaders, elected officials, environmentalists, transportation people, everybody — to show up for the rally or write to Governor Christie or call your elected officials and let them know how you feel," Wowkanech said. "This is an important issue, and the decision time is approaching."
Christie announced a 30-day moratorium on new construction on the tunnel on Sept. 10 saying that he was concerned about possible cost overruns on the project. The governor then announced that he was pulling out of the project on Oct. 7. Christie said the cost of the tunnel could come to $15 billion, much higher than the initial $8.7 billion estimate. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met with Christie the next day and persuaded him to take another two weeks to give the New Jersey Transit staff and his staff time to come up with options to save the project. The two-week extension ends Friday.
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), last week began exploring the possibility of a public-private partnership to save the tunnel, but nothing new has come out of LaHood's office or from Christie.
"If people come up with options that improve the tunnel project or cut costs or bring in more federal aid, that's great," Wowkanech said. "We're concerned about the tunnel itself, not a particular design or funding formula."
Wowkanech stressed that the tunnel project should be a matter of concern to all New Jerseyans.
"Major transportation projects like the George Washington Bridge and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels between New Jersey and New York and the Ben Franklin Bridge and the Walt Whitman Bridge between New Jersey and Philadelphia are what made New Jersey grow into a prosperous state," Wowkanech said. "Look at what the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway and Route 287 did for growth. The tunnel is just the latest example.
"Our parents and grandparents didn't turn their backs on growth," Wowkanech added. "They didn't say that tunnels and bridges are too expensive, and that ferryboats are good enough. We can't turn our backs on growth either because it isn't fair to our children and our grandchildren."
Wowkanech noted that studies by NJ Transit and by the Regional Plan Association have demonstrated that the tunnel will increase property values for homeowners and create 45,000 permanent new jobs. He said the studies also show that it will cut rail commuting times, which will make New Jersey more attractive to homebuyers.
"We need to grow our economy, we need to grow consumer spending and we need to create jobs," he said. "The social and economic benefits that would be lost by not building this tunnel far outweigh Governor Christie's concerns about cost overruns. We urge the governor to move forward to build this tunnel to the future."
The tunnel would stretch from the west side of Hudson County and go underneath the Hudson River to mid-town Manhattan.
— TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM