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GatewayTunnel to help economy, experts say

Amtrak's proposal to create a $13.5 million rail line expansion may not only increase service along the Northeast Corridor rail line — it may also boost the local economy.

The Gateway Tunnel Project — announced at a press conference at the University about a week and a half ago — looks to improve the New York City metro area's capacity issue with commuters between New Jersey and Manhattan, Amtrak spokesman Cliff Cole said.

About 900,000 commuters utilize Amtrak or NJ Transit rail along the Northeast Corridor line — the busiest for both services — to get into New York Penn Station daily, and the number could increase within the next 20 years, he said.

"It's vitally important for the nation to have a vastly enhanced and modernized travel between those endpoints," Cole said.

The plan is in its early stages, seeking federal approval for the $50 million needed to conduct a four-year design and environmental impact study to scope out the plan, he said.

James Hughes, dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Public Planning, said the Gateway project looks to have many long-term benefits for the economy — particularly in the New York City metro area.

"It's going to really tie New Jersey into Manhattan, easing access into Manhattan, so it gives New Jerseyans an opportunity to secure Manhattan jobs, New York City jobs, so that's sort of a key benefit for it," Hughes said.

He also said the project could help expand towns the trains pass through.

More riders would be utilizing the expanded line, so the areas around the stations could develop more and see increases in home values, Hughes said.

It will also put more construction workers in demand, Cole said.

"It will certainly create jobs … to help us build this project if it were to come to fruition," he said.

Hughes said the construction phase — which would not begin for several years — could potentially last until the end of the decade, securing jobs in a market the recession hit hard.

"Construction workers really need the types of jobs that are going to be generated by the new tunnel gateway," he said.

Though the construction stages are far away, Cole said construction should not affect commuters.

"It's not like a road would be closed. … What we have now will certainly be used," he said.

The Gateway proposal would construct two new Hudson River tunnels to be used by the Northeast Corridor — the line that runs from Washington, D.C., and Boston — commuters of both services, Cole said.

Amtrak is also looking to expand New York Penn Station with a new wing south of the existing station, Cole said. They also plan to add seven more tracks and platform areas, mostly to be used by NJ Transit.

Although NJ Transit trains utilize the New Brunswick stop, Amtrak trains do not. Cole does not expect this would change.

Robert Noland, director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center, also does not expect more Amtrak service to the Hub City, as the line stops at Metropark and Trenton, two stations close to New Brunswick.

But Noland, also a professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, said it could be possible that NJ Transit rail service be increased.

"NJ Transit is saying they could run 13 more trains at peak times through the [Gateway] tunnel, so based on that you could see some additional peak hours service through New Brunswick," he said.

Throughout the years, NJ Transit cut several express trains from New Brunswick to New York Penn Station because of a lack of funding. With the new project, the company may consider adding more express trains as more people would utilize the service than before, Noland said.

But Noland said it is too early and there are too many factors to determine if this benefit — as well as the overall project — would be possible.

"I think it's a question of the details. … There's engineering feasibility, and there's political feasibility," he said.

Engineering-wise, Noland thinks the project can be designed to be feasible, but politically, it is up in the air.

"Who knows?" he said.

Hughes also thinks there is a chance the project may not move forward in Congress.

"The main stumbling block is Congress would have to authorize the funding for it, so it's tied up in all the battles in terms of budget cuts," he said. "There's a long way to go before it becomes an operational project," he said.

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