In New York, ARC tunnel could face eminent domain delay


As the Port Authority has begun its preparations for construction of an $8.7 billion commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson, its need for property has arisen to the forefront. In a report prepared for New Jersey Gov. Christopher Christie, an advising committee has warned that the start of construction on the New York side could be delayed by up to six months if issues relating to eminent domain takings are not resolved. Patrick McGeehan goes in depth into the issue today in The Times, but in a nutshell, some local business owners are questioning the need for a second train terminal so close to Penn Station. Still, the Port Authority says it is following proper procedure, and with the recent eminent domain holding concerning the Atlantic Yards plans, a legal challenge here would be highly unlikely to survive. [The New York Times]

Categories : Asides, PANYNJ

29 Responses to “In New York, ARC tunnel could face eminent domain delay”

  1. @epc says:

    May be proper Port Authority procedure, but isn’t it nuts to build a transit terminal in NYC with no connections to Penn Station or the subway?

  2. Red says:

    I’m pretty sure that’s an error or at least unclear wording on the part of the Times. You won’t have to walk to street level from the new station to get to Penn, the PATH, or the Herald Square subway lines. Not sure about the 1/2/3.

    • Aaron says:

      The 1,2,3 and A,C,E are inside NYP, although on opposite ends of the station, so if it’s going to be inside Penn Station and have access to PATH, that means commuters wil have access to the 1,2,3, A,C,E, B,D,F,V and the N,Q,R, which is more access than they have today – right now, it’s not possible to walk from the Herald Square subway to NYP.

      • Boris says:


        There is a pedestrian tunnel between Herald Square and NYP. It is currently closed. It always amazes me how much more pedestrian and transit capacity there was, in New York and around the country, 20, 30, 50 years ago…

        • Ray O'Moonshine says:

          There is also a passenger tunnel underground paralleling the sixth ave line, running from 40th street to the 34th street station. I think it closed down in the mid 80s.It was not within the area where you needed a token, so I’m betting it was closed because the NYCTA cops wouldn’t protect it and NYC was under budget cuts

  3. rhywun says:

    Maybe they could speed up the process by telling the gov’t they wanna hand the land over to some well-connected developer. Dangle the idea of “luxury condos” in front of pols’ eyes, and they’ll be putty in the MTA’s hands.

  4. Jerrold says:

    “NYP” looks to me like an unfamiliar acronym.
    I assume from the context that it means Penn Station, but I’ve never before seen it called NYP.

    Also, the Times article states that:

    “The new commuter terminal, which would sit more than 120 feet beneath 34th Street near Macy’s, was not designed to connect directly to Penn Station or the subway.”

    Why can’t they make it connect to the 6th Ave. and 7th Ave. stations at 34th St.?

    • Aaron says:

      It’s the station’s code on the Amtrak reservation site, to help quickly differentiate the other Penn Stations, particularly Newark Penn. Sorry, I’m regularly accused of over-using abbreviations :).

  5. Alon Levy says:

    Ben, the reason for the eminent domain delay is that the courts ruled against Columbia’s expansion, and Port Authority is afraid its own eminent domain is going to run into the same problem.

    Don’t forget that there’s no need to have any eminent domain for ARC, at all. The current alignment is for a pair of tunnels several blocks to the south of the existing tunnels, curving north to reach 34th. This is unnecessary – there’s no reason not to build a straight tunnel pair just one block south of the existing pair, other than that PA and NJT have already worked out the real estate deals and don’t want to change anything.

    • Scott E says:

      I believe the current alignment is to (1) avoid sharp turns that trains cannot handle except at very slow speeds, (2) avoid having to dig beneath and underpin the entire Penn Station — roads which bear much less weight are preferable, and (3) maintain sufficient space between the two tunnels under the river. I don’t believe it’s going through rock down there, and you want to make sure constructions or vibrations of one tunnel don’t affect the other. I’m sure it’s not out of laziness.

      Besides, I would imagine Eminent Domain (or a more amicable purchase of buildings) would be needed for ventilation structures — which we discussed at length in an earlier post this week.

    • AK says:

      The Colubmia ruling was made by a lower court in New York. It is highly likely that that ruling will be overturned on appeal by the Court of Appeals (New York’s highest court), given the precedent set in Atlantic Yards. Not only that, but the Justices of the Court of Appeals are going to be very unpleased with a lower court judge essentially having repudiated their decision in Atlantic.

      • Also, it’s far easier to see the public benefit of the ARC tunnel as compared with the Columbia extension.

        • rhywun says:

          It’s hard to see how “public benefit” has any relevance whatsoever after Kelo v. City of New London. Hence, my earlier snark about pretending the land is to be given to developers. That decision has made a mockery of what eminent domain used to stand for.

    • Russell Warshay says:

      “there’s no reason not to build a straight tunnel pair just one block south of the existing pair”

      If I recall correctly, the reason why the PA doesn’t want to build so close to the existing tunnels is because they are concerned that they are to fragile. There is a fear that some unknown event might occur during construction that would cause damage to the old tunnels.

  6. Jeremy Steinemann says:

    Ben, I am glad that you covered this — it’s great to see a NJ project in NYC receive press. Since, I’ve followed this closely I want to clear up the confusion in both the Times article and the comments above.

    The new terminal will lie directly beneath 34th street (to the immediate north of Penn Station) and will stretch between 8th avenue and Broadway at about 120ft below the surface.

    There will be underground connections to the subways at Herald Square (BDFV,NQRW), 7th Avenue (123), and 8th Avenue (ACE), as well as an underground connection to the main Penn Terminal. The station will be considered an extension of Penn Station and the track numbers will reflect that by adding onto the existing track numbers (creating tracks 22-27).

    The original plan was to have the ARC tunnels go through Penn station to Grand Central. New York State ultimately did not support that plan, so it was scaled back to go directly to Penn Station. A number of factors prohibited this plan. First, the tunnels had to go beneath the 7 Line extension to 34th street. The resulting depth created too steep of angle for the tunnels to safely go to Penn Station. Second, the construction methods were considered too disruptive to the existing Penn Station and the area around it. As a result, a new terminal was conceived to supplement Penn.

    These changes, however, do not explain the terminal’s planned depth. That is a question of geology. The soil beneath 34th street is apparently very soft. To be structurally sound, the tunnels and terminal have to go into bedrock. As a result, the tunnel will be approximately ten storeys below ground. This depth is actually quite similar to the LIRR East Side Access project.

    If anything is to be learned from this, it’s that bi-state politics are awful for infrastructure development. First Pataki and then Bloomberg both put New York’s near-term interests far above the region’s long-term interests. In the end, we’ll all suffer from a sub-par project.

    • AlexB says:

      Thanks Jeremy for the accurate information. The ARC station will have tunnels connecting it to the current Penn, 123, BDFV, and NRQW. I think the ACE will be a longer walk. The depth isn’t a big deal except it will take 5 minutes to get to the surface assuming the escalators don’t break down…

      I wish someone in charge would say, “We can’t wait to connect ARC to ESA after the water tunnel is finished and look at all these things we’ve done to make it easier!” Maybe after I’m dead.

    • Alon Levy says:

      The construction methods were not disruptive to Penn. Neither was the grade – the tunnels could twin the existing tunnels and go above the 7 extension, as was planned in Alternatives G and S.

      Nor was there a scaling back. Alternative G was cheaper than Alternative P, due to the lack of deep-level construction. It’s much cheaper to build an extra tunnel pair from Penn to Grand Central than to build a new deep-level cavern. The problem was that the Penn-GCT connection would cross over Water Tunnel 1, and the Department of Environmental Protection is paranoid about anything crossing over the tunnel until Water Tunnel 3 is completed and 1 can be safely shut down.

      Once Alternative G was out, the trains had to go to Penn. Now planners really hate Penn Station and are spending as much money as possible on avoiding it and as little as possible on improving it. The New Jersey Transit platforms have only two staircases each, creating the impression that the platforms are inadequate and that a new station is needed. The LIRR remodeled its platforms to have five staircases each, at vastly lower cost. The lower station concourse seems congested as well, though in reality nearly half its area consists of concessions and back offices, which can be moved elsewhere.

      • Jeremy says:

        Alon, while you have a good grasp of the details, I think that your narrative is still somewhat off.

        Alternative G — the connection to Grand Central — was the first to die, somewhere between 2000 and 2003. This had nothing to do with Water Tunnel 1, since the original tunnel was to be much, much higher than — and thus not a threat to — Water Tunnel 1. (For those that don’t know, Water Tunnel 1 is a 100-year old tunnel that serves as the only source of water for most of Lower Manhattan. A new, highly-advanced Water Tunnel 3 is currently under construction to replace/supplement it.) Alternative G died for many other reasons, mostly due to the lack of political support from New York State.

        Alternative P — to go Penn Station — died much later in the planning process (around 2007). One reason I forgot to mention above was the Hudson River bulkhead — a historic, gigantic wooden structure that juts out into the Hudson. Rather than go through the bulkhead, which would have presented numerous engineering and historical preservation issues, the rail tunnels are going underneath it. As a result, the tunnels cannot go above the 7-line extension, and the resulting grade, despite what you say, is too steep to go to Penn.

        In the current plan, Water Tunnel 3 is being used as the primary reason for not tunneling to the east side. What you say about the Department of Environmental Protection is true. Water Tunnel 3, currently under construction, will enable NYC to take Water Tunnel 1 off-line. This should (hopefully) enable planners to push the tunnels eastward toward Grand Central (at some point before I die).

        Finally, I agree that Penn Station’s congestion could be mitigated through construction. Once again, however, we can blame politics. The LIRR has resisted construction on the lower level of Penn Station, including expanding the lower level concourse to provide full access to NJ Transit’s tracks. Without a stronger voice, NJ’s arms remain very tied.

        • Alon Levy says:

          I’ve read that DEP vetoed Alternative G because it didn’t want construction anywhere near Water Tunnel 1. But I may be wrong there.

          The bulkhead is more of an excuse than a real reason. It may be historic, but it’s invisible below ground level; there’s no reason to avoid tunneling through it. And it should be possible to go around it by sticking to paralleling the old pair of tunnels, instead of building a new curvy tunnel. Is it expensive? Yes. Is it more expensive than a new cavern station? Probably not.

          I should mention at this point that Alternative S was pretty rotten, too. It called for service to Penn, and for a new tunnel pair connecting Penn and Sunnyside, such that trains from the old Hudson River pair could only use the old East River Tunnels and trains from the new Hudson pair could only use the new East River pair. Beyond the obvious flexibility problems, which were there for G as well, there’s the question of who needs more tunnels from Manhattan to Sunnyside. The East River Tunnels aren’t at capacity, ridership growth isn’t going to put them at capacity, and if anything East Side Access is going to relieve them.

    • Al says:

      In that case, then how come Amtrak has plans to tunnel directly into NY Penn? The preconceptions seem to have been shattered.

  7. AlexB says:

    One thing I find interesting about all this is that choosing the option currently under construction does not preclude also doing option G at any point there is money and political will. They don’t have to extend the ARC and wait until Water Tunnel 3 is finished. They could start planning to connect Penn and Grand Central tomorrow, no? I’d think a wye connection from the tunnels under 33rd St going up to GC would be great, allowing for Metro-North to connect directly to NJ Transit and the LIRR.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Well, under Alt P, there’s no connection from the new tunnels to the existing Penn Station. There were plans for one, but they got dropped in a budget cut (the cost has still swollen by a factor of 2).

      But there are some ideas to connect the new station with GCT or with East Side Access-GCT, after Water Tunnel 3 is complete. The problem with all those ideas is that they have little operational flexibility. Trains into deep-level Penn would only connect to GCT, and trains into subsurface Penn would only connect to the East River Tunnels.

    • Al says:

      Yes it does preclude Alternative G. The new station will have New York Water Tunnel #1 directly in its path, and nothing is going to go through that.

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