Questions still remain after the recent announcement by NJ Transit that it has awarded a $1.559 billion contract for construction of the New Portal Bridge on the Northeast Corridor followed by President Biden attending a ground-breaking ceremony for start of construction earlier this week. Amtrak’s $305 billion Northeast Corridor High Speed project calls for the introduction of equipment that will operate at a speed of 180 mph.
It is my understanding that the new Portal Bridge has been designed and will be built to accommodate increasing speeds from the current 60 mph to only 90 mph. This same issues also applies to the MTA’s ongoing construction of the $2.6 billion LIRR Main Line Third Track. This conflicts with Amtrak’s long-term plans to reduce travel time by increasing speeds up to 180 mph along the Northeast Corridor.
What future track outages and service changes that might impact both Amtrak and NJ Transit customers will be necessary to support construction? Don’t forget reverse commuters from New York traveling to New Jersey. How much time will lapse after construction starts and finishes before riders will see the full benefits of this investment?
NJ Transit has yet to make public the full detailed budget for the total $1.8 billion project cost. It would tell us the estimated costs for each project component along with funding source. This would tell you how much planning, environmental review, design and engineering, overall construction, track, signal and power work as well as construction management firms needed to supplement NJ Transit engineers in oversight of Third Track Contractors.
Commuters, taxpayers, transit advocates, elected officials, transportation reporters and project advocates deserve answers to these questions before the contractor completes mobilization of his own work forces and materials prior to the start of actual construction. At the end of the day, everyone is looking for safe and reliable service with capital improvements paid for that are fair and reasonable.
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office.