Portal North Bridge Is Out of Money Already!
Stop the presses, NJ Transit Board members, please wake up! The $1.56 billion Portal North Bridge construction contract you approved unanimously at a special meeting last Oct. 12 is a whopping $340 million (28%) over the $1.22 billion contract cost in the PNB Project capital budget! The entire Project Capital Cost is now higher than any amount anticipated by either NJT or the Federal Transit Administration, $32 million over the $1.96 billion identified as the worst case imaginable for which 20% cost overrun funds were identified. In effect, the PNB Project capital budget is out of money before the first spade is turned.
The $1.80 billion FTA-defined PNB “Total Project Cost” NJT submitted to the FTA in September 2020 increased to $1.90 billion (never shared by NJT) with the signing of the Full Funding Grant Agreement contract by FTA and NJT officials last January and has now blown up to an amazing $2.20 billion, without a peep from NJT! The increased cost will require $1.1 billion in New Jersey-controlled funds—not a single dollar from New York!—for this replacement of the Amtrak-owned Portal Bridge.
Board members: were you made aware of this dire financial situation before the Board meeting? If you were made aware, why did no one at the special Board meeting bother to mention the budget-busting overrun, explain how it would be paid for, and list the projects from which the overrun money would come from? If you were not made aware, what are you going to do about this failure of NJT staff to inform you of critically important facts that would likely have changed your approval vote? When will the FTA be informed? Isn’t it time for you, the Board, to stop this over-scoped, incredibly expensive project and investigate more cost-effective alternative designs?
None of this critically important information was provided to the public by NJT before or after the special Board meeting—not even a hint!—and has had to be rooted out of other documents. Regrettably, these facts were not identified until recently, weeks after Board approval of the contract.
At the added August board meeting, a concept/design contract for this project, which began in April with an Innovation Challenge. The goal is to improve transit between Secaucus Junction and the Meadowlands complex. We question spending $3.5 million for the study—for that, we could surely have weekend service to Montclair State!—but given the approval, hope that they are actually investigating real needs, not unverified corporate allegations; that they consider using assets they already have—rail lines, primarily—and that the private entities that are looking for more options for employees and customers alike will be asked to contribute to the cost. We understand that there are contractual obligations, but they are very unclear, and we hope that the board insists on realistic cost projections and funding plans before going any further with this project.
Our August meeting was productive; we had been talking about a few issues on which we were able to come to resolution, and we approved two statements:
Regional Fare Cards: Not So Fast!
We are concerned about recent suggestions to have NJ Transit accept regional fare cards, despite the convenience for most riders, as we have yet to see one implemented in a manner that allows senior citizens to their federally-mandated discounts without preregistration. Conditions of federal funding requires that seniors with proper ID need only present theieRr document (Medicare card, usually, with photo ID if requested).
Our open letter to the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority (NJTPA) suggests that the plan for Norfolk Southern to sell its right of way on the former Lower Greenwood Lake line to Open Space Institute or to private real estate investors is a mistake. We believe that it is imperative to prevent removal of the tracks on the right-of-way, a valuable asset, so that there is the possibility of restoration of freight and/or passenger service. We ask the NJTPA to persuade New Jersey Transit to purchase the right-of-way for future use.
On Friday, October 15th, from 1 to 5 p.m., the Rail Users’ Network hosts a regional miniconference focussing on Midwestern rail. They hope to host the long-delayed Newark conference in person in Spring 2022, with the Lackawanna Coalition as local advocacy partner and the North Jersey Transportation Planning Association as host. Keep watching for details!
How I Became Interested in Trains & Rail Transit
It was the passenger service operated on the New York & Long Branch Railroad that was largely responsible for my interest in trains and rail transit.
I grew up in Teaneck, where I still live. I was born in 1951, and passenger service on the West Shore Railroad, which provided service to Teaneck, wasn’t abandoned until 1959. But my father, who then worked in Jersey City, rarely (if ever) rode the West Shore trains, and I have no recollection of ever riding (or even watching) passenger trains on this line.
Continue Reading MEET A MEMBER: LC Secretary Daniel Chazin
Take a look at the official seal for the Township of Mahwah. You will see a small yellow building with dark trim, obviously built during an earlier era. It is the town’s original train station, built in 1871, and located near the station in use today. It is easy to see from the train window if you look out the left side of the train, going toward New York State. Mahwah is the last stop in New Jersey, before Suffern.
Continue Reading Mahwah Celebrates Its Original Station