Home ARC Tunnel ARC Tunnel not yet officially dead but on life support

ARC Tunnel not yet officially dead but on life support

by Benjamin Kabak

Despite a report yesterday that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will soon pull the plug on the ARC Tunnel, sources close to the project tell me that word of the project’s demise may be premature. While saving the ARC Tunnel may be a longshot, those fighting for it say that Gov. Christie is not taking his decision lightly, and with the 30-day moratorium expiring on Sunday, advocacy groups are urging the governor to take the time to conduct a thorough review of the project.

Speaking on the record yesterday after the initial reports came out, Christie defended his administration’s due diligence. He said:

I have not made any decision I have not been given the information yet by my executive director of NJ Transit or my commissioner of transportation regarding what the real cost of the ARC tunnel going from New Jersey to New York is going to be, and until I get those real costs I can’t make a decision. But what I do know is this: I was alerted to the fact that there were potential for significant cost overruns. And New Jersey’s broke. And the federal government’s made it clear that New Jersey will be on the hook for any cost overruns on the project.

Well I gotta know what those cost overruns are gonna look like, and whether we’re going to have the money to pay for it or not. So that’s why I put a thirty day halt to construction said go back sharpen your pencils and come back to me. The thirty days runs up this week. When I get back to New Jersey tomorrow I’ll be meeting with my transportation commissioner and my New Jersey transit executive director and they’ll give me information and I’ll have to make a decision. But no I haven’t made any decisions yet at all.

Sources say that Christie understand the magnitude of this project. He knows that $600 million in contracts has already been awarded; he knows that the $3 billion in federal money will create thousands of jobs for a state struggling through a bad economy; he knows that the New York region will continue to grow and that rail access into and out of the city needs to expand. He knows that other municipalities are chomping at the bit for a crack of that $3 billion from the feds, and he also knows that his state cannot afford to spend money it doesn’t have.

Noting that he won’t get the support from the federal government or from the city of New York to cover potential cost overruns today, he said that the project’s future boils down to one of pure economics. “The criteria will be the reliability of the numbers that I’m provided and the back-up for that in terms of what the real cost of this project will be — and then making a cold-hearted analysis of whether the state of New Jersey can afford it,” he said.

While Sen. Frank Lautenberg suggested that the Port Authority cover overruns, Christie has noted that the Port Authority’s money comes from New Jersey. In other words, that idea seems to be a non-starter.

Currently, New Jersey Transit officials are conducting a line-by-line review of the ARC Tunnel’s budget and projected expenses in an effort to identify potential cost overruns and a true price tag. Thomas Wright and Juliette Michaelson at the RPA have urged Christie to extend this review. The project, they noted, originated in 1990 and should not be so lightly discarded. They write:

Both the TTF and ARC are critical to the future of the state, and options exist to see them both through. Gov. Christie could continue to negotiate with the construction unions, which have already indicated a willingness to make concessions on their contracts. The Port Authority, a bi-state agency with long-range planning expertise and a core competency in building infrastructure, could also take over the project and assume any potential cost overruns. A compromise could also be negotiated, whereby Gov. Christie reallocated the revenue from future Turnpike toll increases ($1.25 billion) to the TTF and transit users funded the gap with a new “ARC Surcharge” on their fares. Finally, instead of worrying about potential cost overruns that may or may not materialize — the contract bids that have come in so far are right on budget — we could move forward with the financing plan we have in place now, and worry about budget overruns if and when they materialize.

If Gov. Christie is serious about killing ARC, then he must do his due diligence and determine the price that New Jersey’s economy will be paying in terms of more delays and over-crowding on NJ TRANSIT trains, and the effect of poor transit service on individuals and businesses seeking to locate in New Jersey.

Thirty days may be long enough to kill ARC, but it is surely not enough time to devise a successful strategy to fund both the best-planned transit investment in the nation and the necessary maintenance of the state’s road system. Before killing ARC, we call on Gov. Christie to extend the review period to 90 days, giving himself and other state leaders a meaningful chance to keep New Jersey competitive and sustainable.

And so we wait on the future of a project that is entirely necessary for the region and seemingly on life support. It’s not too late for the ARC Tunnel to be saved, but the clock is ticking.

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Pete October 6, 2010 - 6:05 pm

Gov. Christie said he was going to lower the tax system in Jersey.

My question is:
What is the point of lowering taxes if NJT tickets are then raised?
Now he cancels this project which would have created thousands of jobs as well as 10’s of thousands of secondary jobs. It was its own little stimulas in the area.

Hes willing to cut taxes for the wealthy but not help out the working guy. WTF. The little guy needs these jobs.

Alon Levy October 7, 2010 - 12:17 am

Building caverns sure helps the working guy, if the working guy is employed by a politically favored contractor. But if the working guy just wants a train that will shuttle him from suburbia to Manhattan effectively, it has very few benefits compared to the cost.

Aaron October 6, 2010 - 6:23 pm

Wait a year then watch as the Republicans complain that NJT is utterly incompetent because it can’t run enough trains into NYP, and that the trains it does run are overcrowded, and resultantly should thus be privatized. Ever get the feeling that some people set government up to fail so that when it does they can pontificate about the failures of government?

Alon Levy October 7, 2010 - 12:15 am

Yes, NJT is running fewer trains into Penn than a two-track line with modern signaling could support. Not that many fewer, but still. The existing tunnel peaks 24 tph between NJT and Amtrak, and could support 30-32 with moving block signaling.

Zmapper October 7, 2010 - 1:12 am

What about the fact that essentially a flat junction exists in Penn Station, limiting trains per hour? If all trains kept to the right-hand tracks in their direction this would not be as much of a problem but then where do LIRR trains turn around?

Alon Levy October 7, 2010 - 1:36 am

First, the limiting factor to capacity is not station tracks, but the two-track tunnel to the west.

Second, the flat junction is not a problem if you think of Penn as a four- or six-track terminal with tracks leading to the west plus a ten- or twelve-track terminal with tracks leading to the east.

And third, the LIRR should turn in Trenton, Jersey Avenue, Maplewood, and Dover; NJT should turn in Hempstead, Great Neck, and Stamford. It would solve surprisingly many problems to think of Penn as a through-station and not as two separate terminals with track connections.

Lawrence Velazquez October 7, 2010 - 4:56 am

I suspect Alon is too modest to link to his own work, but for more on the benefits of through-running (at Penn Station especially) see his excellent treatise at The Transport Politic.

JMP October 11, 2010 - 6:39 pm

The LIRR tracks at Penn Station continue west to the West Side Rail Yards, where there is ample space to turn trains without impacting trans-Hudson operations. Amtrak trains serving the southern half of the Northeast Corridor from Penn Station turn at the Sunnyside yards in Queens.

There is no reason for LIRR trains to have to cross into Jersey to turn, since they can already turn without going into Jersey. Likewise, Amtrak and Jersey Transit don’t need to take up LIRR track space to turn their trains. (Besides, the LIRR is also operating at full capacity out of Penn Station, terminating lots of trains at Jamaica and Atlantic so that commuters can rely on the subway to take them into Manhattan. The East Side Access project will increase LIRR capacity into Manhattan just like this project will increase NJT capacity into Manhattan.)

Lawrence Velazquez October 7, 2010 - 5:00 am

I don’t suppose it would reduce costs to link the tunnels into Penn, or has that ship sailed for good? How necessary to the project is the new terminal?

Red October 7, 2010 - 7:41 am

I think it’s pretty clear that in the real world, it’s this project or no project (or maybe a better designed project that opens in 2040 instead of 2020, once they are forced to go back to the drawing board).

But in the fantasy world of people like the NJ Association of Rail Passengers, sure, they can just redesign the project in a week and save billions of dollars.

Alon Levy October 7, 2010 - 8:23 am

You know that Alt P and Alt G have both cleared environmental review and the preliminary design stage, right?

And for the record, if it’s $8.7 billion for Alt P or No Build, count me in for No Build. Benefits are finite, and sometimes do not exceed costs.

Douglas John Bowen October 7, 2010 - 9:16 am

Hey, thanks, Red! For all these many years, we’ve been dismissed as marginal players. But from your comment here, one can infer that we’re the evil ne’er-do-wells holding up this stellar project!

True enough, we’re small players, but when it comes to “fantasy,” we point to all the things this project–originally aptly named–was supposed to do way back in the 1990s that it no longer does. And lots of sources share the “fantasy” anyway–CBS 2 TV news last night continued to claim the new tunnel would (and we quote) “more than double the capacity” of trans-Hudson rail crossings. On a good day, not even NJ Transit claims that!

Even the map posted on top of this thread is misleading. “Expanded” Penn Station, sure; it’s a separate structure (OK, linked by long passageways, oooooh) that has very little to do with the current Penn Station. It’s a stub-end, dead-end terminal–real real useful for Access to the Region’s Core from the north or east, again, one of the original goals of this project.

Is the project fatally flawed? No, it’s not; it’s a nice new parallel two-track “commuter railroad” to serve New Jersey–classic 1950s-think made worse by lacking interconnectivity with North America’s busiest passenger rail route. No, it’s not fatally flawed. But it IS flawed, and THAT’s no fantasy.

Thanks for the sneering words, though, sir: We welcome them–a useful barometer!

Eric F. October 7, 2010 - 9:28 am

I do think it’s pretty rich to see NJ’s senators speechifying to the effect that Christie should just “find the money” to do this. Hey guys, you are NJ’s flippin senators..in the majority…why don’t you get the feds to cough up the rest! What exactly do you do all day if not bring back money for stuff like this! Meanwhile, we get to stop at the “Frank Lautenberg” train station in Secaucus where “no one’ gets off. Also, you can take a New York Waterway ferry named after Mssr. Lautenberg. Maybe they can name the abandoned 1/9 overpass over the empty construction site after him as well.

Kid Twist October 7, 2010 - 10:43 am

Let’s see … New Jersey has spent billions over the years on infrastructure that it can’t afford to maintain. So now, it should spend billions more that it doesn’t have … on infrastructure that it won’t be able to afford to maintain. Makes sense to me!

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