Recently, Hurricane Dorian’s destruction reminded us of the importance of sustained infrastructure investment and preparation. The storm fortunately left an often-overlooked national transportation asset unscathed: the busy rail corridor between Washington, D.C., and Boston – the “Northeast Corridor” (NEC) – which is at a greater risk of catastrophic failure than any time in its history.
Only seven years ago Superstorm Sandy battered the Northeast, leaving lasting damage on communities, businesses and lives. Sandy – just one storm – inflicted damage to the tune of nearly $37 billion in New Jersey and $19 billion in New York City. It left nearly 11 million commuters without rail service – crippling local and regional economies with nationwide ripple effects.
Another Sandy, Dorian, or even just a single bridge or tunnel incident, could bring this economic engine to a grinding halt.
What can we do? It’s simple. Take action to ensure that the federal government invests in the NEC, brings several identified and shovel ready projects into a “state of good repair,” and creates a lasting, sustainable funding source for its continued maintenance and improvement.
In 2016 HNTB and a diverse group of business stakeholders formed the Coalition for the Northeast Corridor (CNEC) to do just this. Since then, we have effectively advocated for increased federal investment in the NEC and continue to spread our message.
Why is the NEC so critical? The NEC supports 780,000 commuter and 40,000 intercity trips per day. Amtrak and the commuter railroads operating on the NEC transport a workforce that accounts for 30 percent of all U.S. jobs and $3 trillion annually for the nation’s economy.
Congress recognized the importance of the corridor when it included over $275 million in the 2017 and 2018 Appropriations bills for a newly authorized Federal-State Partnership of Good Repair Program—a hard fought win spearheaded by, among others, the CNEC. With bipartisan support, this was the first major funded program for passenger rail infrastructure that was both authorized and appropriated by Congress.
But much more work remains. In 2010, the Northeast Corridor Commission, established by Congress to develop funding formulas for the corridor, prepared a “NEC Infrastructure Master Plan,” which estimated that the NEC will need $52 billion over the next 20 years to reach a state-of-good-repair and accommodate future expansions. According to both the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, without major investment ($20-$50 billion over the next 20 years) the corridor’s rail infrastructure will be unfit and unsafe to support passenger demand.
Congressional efforts to deliver long-term, sustainable infrastructure investment, however, are slow at best.
The Northeast Corridor Commission has done great work to educate people on what needs to be done and to move many NEC projects forward. But without a cohesive message and continued advocacy that demonstrates to Congress the value of the NEC and the benefits of protecting it, a critically-important economic engine is just one bad storm or accident away from shutting down.
I hope you will take a closer look at the challenges facing the NEC, the work CNEC is doing and consider finding ways to be involved. We need your voice.
Amit Bose is Vice President for HNTB Corporation and Board Chairman for CNEC (coalitionfortheNEC.com). Contact him at email@example.com.