Increasingly, transportation experts and politicians are getting behind a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel plan, the so-called Gateway project, according to Steve Strunsky, reporting in the Star-Ledger (June 14). The catchier “Gateway” name isn’t the only advantage over the now-defunct Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project, derided as “the stop in Macy’s basement”. Like ARC, Gateway would double rail capacity into Manhattan by constructing 2 additional trans-Hudson rail tubes, and would also encompass smaller projects, including the Moynihan Station expansion of Penn Station passenger facilities into the main Post Office and replacement of the aging Portal bridge over the Hackensack River. However unlike ARC, Gateway would be fully integrated into the existing Penn Station.
Amtrak board member Anthony Cosca, speaking at a Regional Plan Association conference, said, “What should be clear is that nobody, nobody is debating that we need this.” Where the money might come from remains unclear; estimated cost of the project is $13–15 billion, higher than the ARC project estimates. New Jersey Gov. Christie, who killed the ARC project as an unaffordable cost to NJ taxpayers, has not ruled out support for Gateway. Amtrak supports the project as essential to eliminate a bottleneck limiting Amtrak’s long-range high-speed rail plans. If Gateway goes forward, it would take until 2025 to complete the project. NJ State Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson said that Gov. Christie would be fully briefed on Gateway; “We’ll see where it goes,” Simpson said.
Coalition Calls for Affordable Trans-Hudson Project, As Feds Demand “ARC” Money Back from NJT
Just as the Lackawanna Coalition made the case in New England for an affordable project that would bring a new rail tunnel into New York’s Penn Station to improve regional connectivity, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) reiterated its demand that New Jersey repay $271 million that it had advanced to New Jersey Transit for the former “ARC” project.
There is little dispute that New Jersey rail riders should have an enhanced railroad and a new tunnel to New York Penn Station, and the Lackawanna Coalition insists that it can and should be built for an affordable price. The Coalition has advocated for such a project since before Gov. Chris Christie terminated the former “ARC” project last fall. Christie halted work on the project, which would have included a new “deep-cavern” terminal 20 stories below 34th Street in Manhattan, because of its excessive cost. He also noted that the project was “flawed” because it did not go to Penn Station or connect with Amtrak and could not be extended to the East Side of Midtown. This past February, Amtrak proposed its Gateway Project, which would bring new tracks into a stub-end annex adjacent to Penn Station, but its price tag is equally high and no source of funding has been identified for it.
Continue Reading Coalition Calls for Affordable Trans-Hudson Project
The Lackawanna Coalition has passed a resolution in support of building “An Affordable ARC Project Now—Not Later”. The organization calls on the state commissioner of transportation and the executive director of New Jersey Transit (NJT) to implement plans that would expand and modernize Northeast Corridor (NEC) capacity while drawing only on $6.4 billion in existing funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
In keeping with the Coalition’s often-stated priority of “Moynihan/Penn Station First,” the project would add a new track between the Midtown Direct entrance to the NEC in Kearny, N.J. and New York Penn Station (NYP), with another to be built later if needed. This would greatly improve NEC capacity and reliability while allowing for East Side Access in the future.
The project would also increase New Jersey capital construction jobs by reclaiming $3.4 billion in federal New Start funds that US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood offered to Gov. Chris Christie this past October, prior to Christie’s final decision to terminate the ARC project. It would also increase NJT’s say in matters concerning the NEC and NYP, by leveraging $6.4 billion investment of New Jersey-controlled funds. The Coalition also calls for participation in the decision-making process by local, regional, and national advocates representing the riding public.
The NJT Board of Directors has approved the hiring of the Washington lobbying and law firm of Patton Boggs, LLC, to defend the agency against a claim by the Federal Transit Administration for $271 million. The FTA wants NJT to reimburse that sum because of the cancellation of the ARC Project in October. Patton Boggs charges $475.00 per hour for attorney work, and there is no cap on the fees that NJT has committed to pay the firm.
The Lackawanna Coalition objected to the hire, saying that there are qualified attorneys in the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office who can defend against the FTA’s claim. These attorneys are already on State salary, so using their services would save the cost of going to an expensive outside firm.
According to the New York Times, since the demise of the ARC tunnel project, New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s administration has been studying extending the No. 7 subway line under the Hudson to connect with NJ Transit at Secaucus. This would expand the regional transportation system and alleviate much of the overcrowding expected on NJT trains in coming years. It would also give NJT riders direct access to the East Side of Manhattan, Queens, and the entire New York subway system. Writing in the Times on November 16, Charles Bagli and Nicholas Confessore report that the subway extension would be much simpler than the ARC tunnel, since the No. 7 subway extension to 34th Street and 11th Avenue is already planned, and further extension would not require condemnation proceedings or extensive tunneling under Manhattan; the already-planned extension will end just one block from the waterfront. It is reported that New Jersey Gov. Christie’s office is interested to hear more about the plan. Although the plan would face formidable hurdles, it is thought that some of the preliminary work done for the ARC tunnel, including environmental impact statements, could be used to expedite planning and approvals.
The Lackawanna Coalition believes that regional planning for an integrated transportation system is essential, and welcomes proposals such as the No. 7 extension, which might well form a useful part of an integrated commuter, rapid transit, and intercity rail infrastructure.
Star-Ledger journalist Tom Moran, in an interview on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC on November 15, said that politics factored in to Gov. Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC trans-Hudson tunnel. Moran noted that opposition to rail projects, including high-speed rail as well as commuter rail projects, are popular with conservatives, “who are in the ascendancy.” The Governor’s opposition to a gas tax increase can be traced to the same motivation, Moran said, as can be the proposals from newly elected Republican governors in several states to cancel high-speed rail projects. Moran said that the failure to build any tunnel would hurt New Jersey economically, as the existing tunnels are at capacity and “many of the new jobs in Manhattan will now go to (residents of) Westchester and Long Island, not New Jersey.” However, Moran said, the Governor’s ARC decision is “popular in New Jersey; Gov. Christie is very persuasive.” Still, “[t]urning back $3 billion (in Federal funding) is unprecedented,” he said. But $1.5 billion of the funding was actually for “congestion relief,” and that might be reallocated to other transportation projects—Moran said, “Most people say it was his plan all along.” About the $270 million already spent and that the federal government has demanded that New Jersey return, Moran said, “the lawyers are thrashing it out.”
The Lackawanna Coalition believes that a tunnel under the Hudson will be necessary, but that the ARC proposal just cancelled was an inefficient, wasteful design. The Coalition believes that all interested bodies should work together on a nonpartisan basis to plan an effective solution to regional commuter and intercity transportation needs.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has sent a bill to New Jersey Transit for $271 million for money advanced to the agency for work on the ARC Project, which Gov. Christie scrapped last month.
NJT Executive Director James Weinstein disputed the bill and also said that there will not be a fare increase to raise money to pay it.
Lackawanna Coalition Techical Director Joseph M. Clift said that, while NJT has sunk costs of about $600 million on the project, that is better than incurring billions of dollars of debt that New Jersey would have to pay in the future.
The Lackawanna Coalition and other rider advocacy organizatios continue to advocate for the Moynihan/Penn Station First alternative, which would bring new tunnels to the existing Penn Station with enhancements to improve station capacity.
Advocates for the Moynihan/Penn Station First alternative to the “deep-cavern” ARC project plan look forward to the opportunity to work with the Christie administration, NJ Transit, Amtrak, New York, and other regional players on development of an affordable, yet improved alternate plan for ARC, based on previous environmental and planning studies, that is advanced rapidly enough to make use of the $3 billion in federal New Start funds currently committed to ARC.
Moynihan/Penn Station First advocates include the Lackawanna Coalition, New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, Empire State Passengers Association, and the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility and their umbrella coordinating organization, the Regional Rail Working Group. The alternative also enjoys strong support from the Rail Users’ Network and the National Association of Railroad Passengers.
Riders on the Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Lines who go to New York have won a significant victory. They no longer need to be concerned that they will be evicted from the existing Penn Station and forced into a dead-end deep-cavern terminal that would have been inconvenient and posed a safety threat in case of emergency. The Lackawanna Coalition is particularly pleased the our Midtown Direct service will continue, rather than being turned into Midtown Indirect.
WNYC reported at noon Wednesday that N.J. Gov. Christie has reaffirmed his decision to cancel the ARC tunnel. This follows a 2-week period in which the Christie administration was reconsidering its earlier decision to cancel the project.
WNYC reporter Matthew Scheuermann said on the station’s 12:00 p.m. newscast that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had offered an additional $380 million in federal funds over the weekend, but Christie said that the offer was not enough to make the project affordable.
We’ll post further details as they become available.