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New Amtrak routes could be added in N.J. and the Lehigh Valley under infrastructure bill


Amtrak plans to add and enhance services in the Northeast. (Provided)

The $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill making its way through the U.S. Senate this week includes more than $60 billion for Amtrak, funding the passenger railroad says will allow it to serve more cities and run more trains, some of them in New Jersey and the Lehigh Valley.

The proposed allocation, which also would provide money to build the Gateway Tunnel under the Hudson River, would enable Amtrak to expand service to places without trains, including two routes from New York through New Jersey to Pennsylvania.

One would go through Somerville and connect with Easton and Allentown, Pennsylvania, according to a proposed map of Amtrak services. The other includes stops in Newark, Summit, Morristown and Dover en route to President Joe Biden’s native Scranton.

“We have been preparing for years for this moment — analyzing potential markets and holding hundreds of meetings,” Amtrak spokesman Jason Abrams said. “It’s clear that city pairs across America are in urgent need of greener alternatives to driving and flying.”

Almost half of the money allocated for Amtrak, $30 billion, is earmarked for the Northeast Corridor. There’s also $8 billion for capital improvement grants, the program that will help fund the new Portal Bridge and perhaps Gateway as well. Those grants are part of the $39 billion earmarked for mass transit in the bill.

New Jersey officials have spent years seeking federal funds to cover part of the $11.6 billion cost of a new tunnel to carry Amtrak and New Jersey Transit trains under the Hudson River and to repair the existing tubes damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

A new $17.5 billion fund for the projects of national significance program, while listed in the highway section of the bill, possibly could be tapped to fund Gateway.

“I have worked to make sure Amtrak gets the funding it needs to improve service in the Northeast Corridor and nationwide,” said Rep. Donald Payne Jr., D-10th Dist., chair of the House Transportation railroads subcommittee. “The fact that they are going to expand and support the Gateway Program has been a part of the conversation I have had with Amtrak since before my chairmanship.”

Here’s what else is in the infrastructure bill that directly affects New Jersey, according to analyses of the legislation from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s office and the White House.

--Reconnecting neighborhoods. Biden initially proposed spending $20 billion to tear down or cover highways built through largely minority communities, such as Interstate 280. The bill pared that down to $1 billion.

“It is unfortunate that the funding President Biden would like to provide to reconnect underserved and minority communities has been cut,” Payne said. “But I am hoping the Senate will consider amendments to increase that funding. We need to do everything we can to reconnect urban neighborhoods that have been split by these massive highways.”

--Restoring Superfund taxes. New Jersey has the most Superfund sites in the nation, and the infrastructure bill again would tax oil and chemical companies to fund the cleanups. Biden’s original proposal called for funding Superfund cleanups through new industry taxes to replace the ones that expired a quarter-century ago.

“The American taxpayer should not be forced to pay for the environmental remediation of toxic waste sites created by corporate polluters,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-6th Dist., chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and sponsor of separate legislation to tax industries responsible for the contamination. “This is a good first step to make polluters pay their share.”

There is $3.5 billion in the legislation to clean up Superfund sites.

--Toll credits. States that use toll revenues to maintain their interstate highways build up credits that they can then use to cover the local share of federally-funded road and bridge projects. New Jersey has $5.5 billion in such credits, more than any other state, but not enough projects to spend them on.

This provision, which Booker has sought to pass in the past, would allow states with surplus credits to sell them at a discount to other states. The buyers could cover their local shares for less money, while the sellers, like New Jersey, could raise billions of dollars for highway construction.

--Reducing port pollution. A grant program earmarks $250 million over five years to help reduce emissions from trucks idling at Port Newark and other facilities, thus improving air quality in adjacent neighborhoods.

--Roads and bridges. New Jersey, with some of the nation’s oldest infrastructure, will get share of the $110 billion set aside for road and bridge construction and repairs. New Jersey ranks 21st among the 50 states with 502, or 7.4%‚ of its 6,801 bridges rated as deficient, according to Federal Highway Administration statistics.

--Replacing lead water pipes. Several cities in New Jersey, most notably Newark, found high levels of lead in their drinking water. The bill includes $55 billion for clean drinking water, enough to replace all of those lead pipes, according to an analysis provided by Booker’s office.

--Delaware River Basin. The bill includes $26 million for the basin, which includes parts of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware.

--Hudson River ferries. Private ferry companies such as New York Waterway, based in New Jersey, could seek federal funding for boats and terminals if they are considered essential elements of a regional transportation network. Such ferries helped evacuate those stranded in Manhattan after 9/11.

“For years, New Jerseyans have had to deal with roads in disrepair costing our state millions of dollars in lost productivity,” Booker said. “This bill will help fund projects like Gateway and our public transit systems, create good-paying jobs, save New Jerseyans time and money, and boost New Jersey’s economy.”

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Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at Follow him at @JDSalant.

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