Locals invited to attend event on Gateway Project

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The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, a rail-advocacy group representing 1.7 million residents in four counties along NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley Line, will sponsor a free presentation on the Gateway Project.

The presentation event is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on March 26 at the Cranford Community Center.

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“It cannot be understated: the Gateway Project, and related work, which has been long postponed, comprise the most significant economic impact project in the nation,” said Bruce Bergen, a former Union County Freeholder who chairs the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition. “It is urgent to New Jersey, the Northeast, and in fact the entire country, that federal funding be secured and the project proceed expeditiously.

“The regional economy would be dealt a catastrophic blow if one of the two existing tunnels, which have seriously deteriorated, fails or is forced to close for a substantial period of time for repairs,” he added.

Officials said a featured speaker at the event will be Jerry Zaro, an attorney with Sills, Cummis and Gross P.C. in Newark who serves as chairman of the Gateway Development Corp.

According to officials, the GDC oversees the Gateway Project, the multibillion-dollar infrastructure initiative to build new rail tunnels under the Hudson River, rehabilitate the existing 108-year-old tunnels that were damaged by Superstorm Sandy, build a new Portal Bridge over the Hackensack River, and expand New York’s Penn Station, along with related projects. Officials said it would be the largest current infrastructure project in the United States.

The projects serves as much to significance to Plainfield Township as well, who has two train stations on the Raritan Valley Line.

“Reliable train service, including a one-seat ride to New York, is key to the continued revitalization of New Jersey’s urban centers, and the economic well-being of our residents and businesses,” said Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp. “Funding must be secured to complete these initiatives, rebuild our roads and bridges and keep our cities moving forward.”

Peter S. Palmer, a former Somerset County Freeholder and current RVRC trustee, said commuters “continue to suffer from delays and cancellations from an over-burdened and antiquated train system in dire need of upgrades.” Somerset County has five train stations along the Raritan Valley Line.

“Our residents who rely on train service are being pushed to their limits,” Palmer said. “Further delay in making desperately-needed improvements to train service will damage regional economic development. The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition will continue to advocate as strongly as possible on their behalf.”

The Gateway Project improvements are in a key area of the Northeast Corridor, the most heavily used passenger train line in the United States, which accounts for 20 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. It is estimated that 10 percent of U.S. GDP depends on transit between New York and New Jersey alone.

The Northeast Corridor is said to carry more than 800,000 passengers in 2,000 trains daily across eight states and Washington D.C.  A report in 2016 said that Amtrak found that implementation of the full Gateway Project could generate $3.87 worth of economic benefits for every $1 spent.

The Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, which represents Union, Somerset, Middlesex and Hunterdon counties, was created nearly two decades ago to campaign for a one-seat ride on the Raritan Valley Line, which has 23,500 passengers daily, making it NJ Transit’s third most-used rail line.

While track connectivity existed into New York, Raritan Valley many riders were forced to get off in Newark and switch trains because their diesel engines were not allowed into the tunnels under the Hudson River.

That changed in 2014, when NJ Transit began using dual-mode locomotives that could switch from diesel to electric power, making it possible to have a direct ride into New York City.  NJ Transit introduced limited, one-seat ride service during off-peak hours in January 2015, but then suspended it last year.

All are welcome to attend the free March 26 event. The Cranford Community Center is located at 220 Walnut Ave. in Cranford, with on-site parking.

The Rail Coalition, which also consists of a Mayors’ Alliance and of county and state officials, can be reached on email at info@raritanvalleyrail.com, is on the web at www.raritanvalleyrail.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/raritanvalleyrail and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/rvrailcoalition.

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