According to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), if plans for new trans-Hudson rail tunnels are not made final soon, the tunnels may become much more difficult to construct. According to reporting by Illya Marritz on WNYC (transportationnation.org), Schumer said that the problem lies in a new multiuse real-estate development, Hudson Yards, being planned for the west side of Manhattan on Long Island Rail Road property: Schumer said that Amtrak engineers have determined that the only practical route for the new “Gateway” tunnels would be under the LIRR property, and, he said, once the new buildings are being built, it may be impossible to route the tunnels under them. Schumer said that the Related Companies, builders of Hudson Yards, are prepared to cooperate with Amtrak and the federal government to coordinate the tunnel project, but since the new development will start construction by the end of this year, Schumer said that the window to coordinate may be as short as 6 months. Schumer pledged to seek federal funding for the Gateway project.
The Lackawanna Coalition believes that new tunnels under the Hudson will be essential for a rational regional transportation system, and that they should be built so as to afford maximum use by both NJ Transit and Amtrak, and eventual access to Manhattan’s East Side.
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.
On Monday, October 4, as Gov. Christie’s transportation project freeze goes into effect and the NJ legislature is set to hold emergency meetings on the crisis, WNYC’s Bob Hennelly reported on the situation. He said that Democratic legislators’ concerns focus on the Governor’s $1.25 billion bond program to keep the projects going without approval from New Jersey voters, which they say should be required; also, the Democrats fear that New Jersey’s contribution to the ARC tunnel project will be reassigned by the governor to bail out the Transportation Trust Fund. With 40,000 workers on highway and rail projects idled by the governor’s action, Hennelly noted, is the Democrats’ standing on principle going to be worth it? Hennelly reported that the root problem is the state’s continuing failure to deal with the depleted Trust Fund situation with a real solution, “like a gas tax hike”. The bottom line? Hennelly said that with the projects halted, workers and their unions are putting pressure on both sides, and we shall see what happens.
The Lackawanna Coalition has become increasingly concerned that New Jersey cannot afford its share of the cost of the proposed ARC Project, as demonstrated by the current difficulties with the Transportation Trust Fund. Coalition Chair David Peter Alan said, “If New Jersey can’t afford to continue construction on hundreds of highway projects and a few comparatively small transit projects, I don’t see how the state could afford billions of dollars for a deep-cavern tunnel to nowhere.”
NJ Governor Chris Christie’s 30-day moratorium on the ARC trans-Hudson rail tunnel has led to a “high-stakes game of political chicken”, which now threatens to stop about 100 road and rail construction projects around the state, according to a front-page article in the Star-Ledger on Saturday, October 2. The Governor halted the ARC project pending a review of New Jersey’s ability to pay for it; legislature Democrats, saying that the Administration continues to fail to provide details of any plan to replenish the nearly-broke Transportation Trust Fund, last week stalled a $1.25-billion bond issue needed to keep the projects going. The Governor then threatened to halt the projects, effective Monday, October 4.
One solution to the trust fund problem would be an increased gas tax, but the Governor is adamantly opposed to it. The article, by Mike Frassinelli and Lisa Fleisher, quotes NJ Transit executive director Jim Weinstein as saying that there have been discussions about diverting the ARC money to shore up the Trust Fund. Labor unions reacted strongly to the Governor’s announced project freeze, saying that the construction workers would be immediately out of work in a time when construction industry joblessness is at an all-time high. Democrats scheduled an emergency meeting for 10 a.m. Monday to reconsider the bond issue.
The Lackawanna Coalition supports additional tunnel capacity to Manhattan, but opposes the proposed “deep cavern” terminal that is planned to accompany the proposed additional tunnels. We continue to question the affordability of the deep-cavern terminal portion of the project, and we object to the planned eviction of Morris & Essex and Montclair-Boonton Line riders from the existing Penn Station. NJT says the groundbreaking ensures the eventual completion of the project as planned, but we know that ground has been broken for the Second Avenue Subway four times at last count. The line was planned in the 1920s, when a subway was built in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati tunnel and stations were never used in transit service.