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NEW YORK CITY-Improving the region’s infrastructure will not only upgrade highways and rail systems, it will also create much-needed jobs. That was the theme of “Regional Transportation Update: Stimulus Prompting Work,” sponsored by the Professional Women in Construction.

The forum, held here yesterday, was moderated by William Fife, principal of the Fife Group. Panelists included Susan Bass Levin, deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Richard J. Raczynski, chief engineer for the New Jersey Turnpike; Phillip Eng, director, region 11, of the New York State Department of Transportation; and Ernest Williams, director of special projects and compliance for NJ Transit.

Fife set the stage for the discussion by noting that the American Society of Civil Engineers had given the nation’s infrastructure a grade of ‘D’ in a recent report card. He also pointed to the cover story of the January/February issue of Real Estate New York entitled, “Our Crumbling Infrastructure”.

“What better way to highlight the need for the report card’s implementation and the steps these folks [on the panel] are taking as part of the region’s commissions,” he said, holding up a copy of the magazine.

Levin spoke about the progress of the proposed Access to the Region’s Core project, otherwise known as the ARC tunnel. The ARC project would add a second, two-track rail tunnel between New Jersey and Midtown Manhattan. Of the $787 billion included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, $130 million has been set aside as a “down payment” toward the ARC tunnel, said Levin, adding that the PA and NJ Transit have each pitched in a total of $5.7 billion for the joint project. The tunnel is expected to be open by 2017.

Levin said that the ARC project could create 6,000 jobs annually. “For every billion dollars spent on transportation projects, up to 47,000 additional jobs are created,” she said. “We need those jobs in this economy.”

Raczynski detailed the Turnpike’s $7-billion, 10-year improvement program. Although he said his agency did not take federal money for the project, it was able to exceed its goal of raising $650 million to fund the first year of the program. “Most of $7 billion is being pushed into the first five years of the program so we can get as much work on the street and as many people employed in the State of New Jersey as we can,” he said.

However, Eng cautioned that the deadline to apply for federal funds is fast approaching. The time frame is 120 days and the clock started ticking on March 2. If a state doesn’t obtain those funds during that window, the money goes back into a national pool, Eng said. “The timeline to get funds is very short, since the purpose is to be put people back to work quickly,” Eng said.

“When the President called for shovel-ready projects, New York State stood ready with our shovels,” he said. “Now we need to put some people behind those shovels.”

That may not be so easy. As Williams pointed out, there are $40 billion worth of shovel-ready projects in the region. “We are all competing for the same labor force,” he said. “There is not enough to handle all of that work. The opportunities are tremendous.”

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