September 20, 2001

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The Holland Tunnel, closed to traffic since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, may open within a week, officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said yesterday. 

The tunnel itself was not damaged Sept. 11 but, because of security concerns and its proximity to the lower Manhattan disaster area, it was placed off limits to all but emergency vehicles and trucks hauling away debris. While a large number of such vehicles are still parked in a staging area near the New York mouth of the tunnel, the demand has lessened considerably since the early days of the search and rescue mission created hundreds of crossings daily, said Ken Philmus, Port Authority director of tunnels, bridges and terminals. Before a decision to reopen is made, agency officials will consult with New York officials to come up with a transportation plan so the tunnel's reopening does not snarl Manhattan traffic. One option might include opening the tunnel for buses only until full travel can be restored. "We hope it will be open in the next week or so," Port Authority Chairman Lewis Eisenberg said. 

Far more difficult to predict will be the restoration of PATH train service to downtown Manhattan. The commuter rail line's World Trade Center station is 70 feet below the complex, which was destroyed after terrorists crashed two hijacked jetliners into the Twin Towers. Because of flooding and the volume of fallen debris, the extent of damage to the station, which was the busiest on the interstate line, is still undetermined.

 Eisenberg said the task of removing the debris could take six to 12 months. The structural integrity of the station is uncertain, though the two tubes that run beneath the Hudson River were not damaged, said Ronald Shiftan, deputy executive director of the Port Authority. The officials made the comments after the Port Authority's board of commissioners held their first meeting since the disaster. 

Gathered in a borrowed conference room in the New York state office building in Manhattan, the 12 unpaid commissioners, surrounded by red-eyed directors and managers, paid tribute to the 74 Port Authority employees lost or unaccounted for in the attack. They also praised the scores of evacuees -- some still covered by dust and soot -- who regrouped at agency buildings in Jersey City to resume operations within hours after the attack. "During the last 10 days I have merely been a spectator among a company of heroes," Eisenberg said. 

Philmus said the agency was still calculating the loss in toll revenue from the closing of the Holland Tunnel. Shiftan said the Port Authority has $1.5 billion in insurance coverage against lost revenue, so the agency foresees no financial losses. Last year, the $74.2 million in tolls yielded by the tunnel accounted for almost 13 percent of the $582.4 million collected by the Port Authority. In both income and traffic, the Holland Tunnel ranks third behind the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel. Last year, the tunnel was used by approximately 98,000 vehicles daily. 

The Holland is not the only Port Authority facility with operations compromised by the emergency. Philmus said the Goethals Bridge has been strangled by hour-long delays because a lane on the Staten Island Expressway has been reserved for emergency vehicles all the way to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The closures also are causing hour-long delays at the Lincoln Tunnel. "The George Washington Bridge is still the best route for getting in and out of Manhattan," Philmus said.

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