On July 27th from 4 to 7 p.m., the New Jersey Transportation Planning Association (NJTPA) will hold a virtual open-house meeting: drop in any time to see an introductory presentation, then join staffed break-out rooms to ask questions and share your thoughts on NJTPA’s Plan 2050 (https://njtpa-plan-2050-njtpa.hub.arcgis.com). The plan includes the long-range Plan 2050 as well as draft plans for the periods 2022–2025 and 2022–2031. In addition, there is a draft Air Quality Conformity Determination. In addition to its open house, the agency is taking written comment through August 4th at Plan2050@njtpa.org. Our first comment? Do better than so many government agencies and actually allow for reflection time after their presentation before the public-comment period closes—we’d like the NJTPA to accept comments until late August.
The Tappan Zee Bridge has carried the New York Thruway across the Hudson River for 57 years. Designed for 100,000 vehicles per day, it now carries 138,000, has no breakdown lanes, and fails to meet earthquake standards. Everybody agrees that it’s obsolete, and there are plans afoot to build a new bridge or two, with a total of 15 lanes instead of the current 7. Nobody knows how to pay for it; tolls, currently $4.75 for a car round-trip (using E-ZPass), would be bound to increase.
The bridge also has no provision for mass transit; nobody was thinking of anything but vehicles back in the 1950s. There is also no plan for mass transit on the new bridge. Why? Nobody knows how to pay for it, either. The best that can be said for the replacement plans is that they won’t preclude transit—which means that space will be left for a future transit bridge, should it eventually become feasible. The new bridge project has been supported by New York Governor Cuomo, who has however not pushed for transit, either bus or rail, on the new bridge. The controversy continues, as reported by Peter Applebome in The New York Times (June 27). Originally, plans included a public-transportation corridor including bus-only lanes, and a possible connection to the Metro-North rail network. The regional chapter of the American Planning Association took exception to the no-transit plan, saying in a March letter, “We believe a project design so as ‘not to preclude’ transit realistically does have the effect of precluding transit.” Meanwhile, political gridlock in Washington has shut off that source of funding: the Thruway Authority’s bond ratings have been downgraded, partly because of the Tappan Zee liabilities, and speculation is that, once the bridge is completed, the Thruway will have an incentive to maximize auto traffic to derive maximum toll revenues to pay off the bonds. This does not exactly make the bridge proponents unbiased evaluators of the need for transit.
The Lackawanna Coalition believes that a balanced transportation system is essential to the region, and that additional highway capacity should be planned only in conjuction with plans for mass-transit capabiilities.
Federal law requires commuter rail operators to implement an advanced safety technology, Positive Train Control (PTC), by 2015. However, many operating agencies protest that the new technology is expensive, untested, and cannot easily be obtained. The presidents of the two railroads operated by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Metro North Railroad (M-N) and Long Island Rail Road (LIRR), have protested that they may be unable to meet the deadline. Howard Permut and Helena Williams, presidents of M-N and LIRR respectively, note that they “make operating a safe and reliable system . . . our absolute priority” and that the lines have already invested over $1 billion on a signaling system “providing a level of security greater than that of many rail systems today.” In addition, they say, in a joint letter to The New York Times (May 5), to install PTC requires retrofitting 1200 miles of track and more than 1000 rail cars and that much of the technology needed is not yet even developed, let alone approved or in production. In a follow-up letter to The Times (May 8), the CEOs of the American Public Transportation Association and of the Association of American Railroads emphasized that the railroads do not seek to delay implementing the new technology because of the costs involved; instead, they wrote, the technology simply won’t be ready in time for the 2015 deadline.
We do not have information on PTC compliance at NJ Transit; however, NJT is known to have already implemented highly advanced “civil speed enforcement” technology on many lines, and this technology may provide most or all of the features required in the new law.
New Jersey Transit has announced that there has been a change in the proposed replacement for Portal Bridge, west of Secaucus Station. Previous plans had called for a fixed span 50′ above water and another 10′ lower, which could be raised for a passing boat. The new plan calls for two 50′ fixed spans. NJT says the change is feasible because a thinner structure will allow more height between the water and the bridge, without lengthening the approaches to the bridge. We remain skeptical, since a 25% increase in the height of the bridge would require either a longer approach or a significantly steeper grade if the approach is not lengthened.