Oct
07

The ARC Tunnel postmortem: reasons and a future

By · Published in 2010

These tunnels, the only way into or out of New York City for NJ Transit, aren't going to cut it. (Photo courtesy of NJ Transit)

For Gov. Chris Christie, pulling the plug on the ARC Tunnel was a matter of economics. According to ARC Executive Steering Committee estimates, the project will cost between $3-$5 billion more than anticipated, and without massive tax increase, New Jersey cannot pay for any potential cost overruns. “The ARC project costs far more than New Jersey taxpayers can afford and the only prudent move is to end this project,” he said this afternoon.

The information upon which Christie based his decision on the project came from a three-page memo put forth by the heads of the agencies overseeing the project. The memo — embedded after the jump and available here — discusses the rising costs of the project. Although no one conducted a line-by-line analysis of the budget, the FTA believes the final costs could be as much as $13.7 million, and New Jersey Transit anticipates overruns of at least $1.3 billion.

For a project that started out with a $4.3 billion price tag in late 2003, the ballooning costs forecasted its end. “The Committee fully recognizes the value and benefit of a cross Hudson transportation improvement would bring to New Jersey’s transportation system and the entire region,” the report says. “The Committee also understands that this action may result in the loss of $3 billion in discretionary federal New Starts money. Nonetheless, it is the judgment of the Committee that in the current economic climate, New Jersey and its project partners cannot afford this project and recommend its immediate and orderly shutdown.”

By closing up shop, Gov. Christie will see around $478 million flushed down the drain. The state believes it can recover some of this money already spent on construction, but the job losses today and in the future will sting. While Ray LaHood, the current Secretary of Transportation, plans to meet with Christie tomorrow, the immediate future for the ARC Tunnel looks bad.

Meanwhile, advocates for the project are dismayed. The Regional Plan Association slammed Christie for basing his decision off of unofficial cost estimates and fears that twenty years of progress on a badly-needed river crossing will go up in smoke. “The decision to cancel ARC is an enormous disappointment,” Bob Yaro, RPA president, said. “ARC was desperately needed by the residents of New Jersey who now face limited access to the most lucrative job market in the nation, less reliable commutes and more congested roadways at the Hudson River crossings for the next generation.”

Another RPA official noted that, despite the cost increases, New Jersey would see nearly unprecedented economic growth by completed this project. “With the 70,000 additional daily riders who would have used ARC, New Jersey would be more connected to New York City and the expanding global economy, companies and workers would continue locating in the Garden State, home construction would pick up, and the value of homes near transit stations would rise by an estimated $18 billion,” RPA Executive Director Tom Wright said. “All of this has been jeopardized by this decision.”

Yet, some advocates have highlighted the silver lining in Christie’s cloud. The ARC Tunnel, while badly needed, is not an ideal project. It doesn’t allow for Amtrak expansion and would require a new station cavern buried deep below 34th St. with no direct connection to Penn Station. The NJ ARP’s 2005 statement explores these issues further, and Christie’s decision to halt the project now could allow for these design flaws to be corrected in the future.

At some point not too far from now, the New York/New Jersey region will have to figure out how to improve rail crossings under the Hudson River. The ARC Tunnel, twenty years in the making, would have begun to solve our region’s transportation projects, and this setback, while major, shouldn’t mark the end of those efforts. Today is a sad day, but it shouldn’t be the end of this project by any means.

After the jump, read the memo from the ARC Executive Steering Committee torpedoing the project.

10.7.10 Memo



Categories : ARC Tunnel

34 Responses to “The ARC Tunnel postmortem: reasons and a future”

  1. Marc Shepherd says:

    I agree that cancelling the project is an appallingly bad decision, but disagree with the post on a couple of points:

    First, it mentions that the RPA “slammed Christie for basing his decision off of unofficial cost estimates.” But does anyone really believe that the project could be built for $8.7 billion? Given the record of transit projects, cost overruns have to be regarded as a practical certainty. (Indeed, the memo mentions that the $8.7 billion does not include construction of a new railroad bridge that would be essential to the project.) Christie’s error is his unwillingness to raise taxes, not his sober assessment of the likely costs.

    Second, the NJ ARP’s objections are a red herring. Their preferred alternative (with a connection to Grand Central) is unquestionably better from a pure transit perspective. It is also, beyond a doubt, considerably more costly. How could anyone believe their design will ever be built, when even this more modest proposal cannot get traction?

    • Gary says:

      The answer is, and I say this as a staunch Democrat, for the Obama administration demonstrate some vision and backbone and put forth a bold stimulus program for transit infrastructure projects.

      I don’t believe for a second that Christie is motivated by good intentions. He is the very embodiment of George Bush style GOP governance – cut taxes, raise fees, and transfer wealth to your rich buddies.

      But that doesn’t change the fact that commuter rail is a regional issue, and operating NJ Transit, LIRR and Metro-North as separate silos with dead-end terminals is an incredibly poor way to manage regional rail.

      We need a system that is planned and governed on a regional basis, and we need a level of Federal commitment to rail that has been sorely lacking.

      This is a debacle, but it is not a one dimensional debacle.

      • Eric F. says:

        Good point, all he cares about is giving money to his cronies. Whereas, the last governor, a Democrat, was the former head of Goldman Sachs, so we didn’t have the problem.

        • Gary says:

          Don’t even get me started on Corzine and his awful trial balloon for privatizing the NJ toll roads. He deserved to lose the Governorship just for that – I just wish it wasn’t to Chris Christie.

      • Marc Shepherd says:

        But Gary, surely you are aware of the political calculus. The Democrats already lost their 60-vote margin in the Senate. Less than a month from now, their margins in both houses will at best be significantly narrowed, if not lost altogether.

        “Vision” and “backbone” aside, multi-billion dollar transit stimulus projects, beyond those already appropriated, are not going to pass. There are a sufficient number of Republicans that will block them, no matter what kind of argument is made on their behalf.

      • Aaron says:

        But that doesn’t change the fact that commuter rail is a regional issue, and operating NJ Transit, LIRR and Metro-North as separate silos with dead-end terminals is an incredibly poor way to manage regional rail.

        Trouble is, you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you wish you had. There are many other cities with numerous different stations for commuter rail and they seem to get by. It’d be awesome if we could be LA and start fresh and have nearly all of our train lines run into Union Station. But it’s not – we have to work with the infrastructure we have. To a certain extent, that may not be that bad – if every commuter rail rider had to get off at Penn Station I suspect that the West Side subway lines would quickly become overburdened. Having some people able to disembark at GCT or WTC is a good thing for not concentrating crush loads boarding the subway at 34th St.

        Anyhow, I’m not really sure what that has to do with ARC, seeing as ARC was a way to primarily save NJ Transit.

    • Kevin says:

      > How could anyone believe their design will ever be
      > built, when even this more modest proposal cannot
      > get traction?
      >

      If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. ARC made too many compromises. I, for one, am glad the project was dumped. I would much rather get behind an AMTRAK tunnel expansion.

      As an aside, people should know that more New Jerseyans (including yours truly) commute via bus to the City, than take the rails.

      • Marc Shepherd says:

        By that argument, every transit project would be gold-plated. The Second Avenue Subway would have 4 tracks, for example.

        • Think twice says:

          I personally wish the design, construction, and future operation of the SAS, ESA, and 7 train extension had met with the same scrutiny as ARC before we got this far into their construction.

          • Gary says:

            And the SAS SHOULD have 4 tracks Marc. Our failure to invest properly in transit projects will cost us dearly down the road, when once again we’re bemoaning “the Army we have” as opposed to the Army we wish we had.

            Retrofitting is a bitch.

    • Alon Levy says:

      It is also, beyond a doubt, considerably more costly.

      The Alternatives Analysis said the exact opposite: Alt G is cheaper than Alt P. The extra connection to Grand Central is not nearly as expensive as a 175′ deep 6-track cavern underneath Penn Station.

      • Think twice says:

        Who in New Jersey do we thank for selecting the inferior, expensive alternative and thereby dooming ARC altogether.

        • Alon Levy says:

          I’m not sure. I think it was partly the MTA’s fault for refusing to share Grand Central, but don’t quote me on that.

          • Marc Shepherd says:

            I do recall reading somewhere that the MTA opposed the connection to Grand Central. It wasn’t so much that they wouldn’t share the station, as that they felt the construction would be too disruptive to subway service.

            • Alon Levy says:

              Construction that would not intersect the subway at all? I’m willing to believe there would be noise and some tunnel strengthening issues, but “too disruptive” is a little bit too incredible.

  2. TheDude says:

    Good luck getting the political factions to line up on this one anytime soon. I give it 10 years maybe 20 before you see it revived.

  3. Gary says:

    Ever the optimist, I fantasize that this failure could provide greater impetus to the Amtrak proposal that was put forth a couple weeks ago.

    Now THERE is a project I think everyone could get behind.

    • Marc Shepherd says:

      Do Republicans count as “everyone”? There are quite a few of them that wouldn’t spend a dime on Amtrak.

      • Gary says:

        Absolutely true – I was being flip with that comment, really referring to NJ ARP and other critics of the (very real) shortcomings of the ARC project.

        We’ll see what happens. I for one don’t think November will be as bad as conventional wisdom suggests. And there is a very small handful of GOPers who are not violently hostile to rail.

        There is absolutely nothing we can do to stop Christie on this. Let’s try to think of ways we can build something better from the wreckage he’ll leave behind.

    • TheDude says:

      Last night on “Newshour” Republicans were talking about how they want to cut amtrak when/if they gain control in November.

  4. Scott Mercer says:

    Hey guys, send those 3 billion in new starts funds over here to Los Angeles.

    We’re actually building new transit projects right now, and our citizens actually agreed (holy smoke) to TAX OURSELVES to pay for them.

    Too bad you people in New Jersey (my former state of residence, by the way) were too short-sighted to get your acts together.

    Hope you can still keep it together to extend the HBLR up to Tenafly, and do a bunch of those other projects that are on the drawing board.

    • Aaron says:

      Yeah, agree there, it’s exciting to see the consensus developing around 30/10 and the projects in LA. You’ve still got the BRU hyperventilating but on the whole it’d be a lot more fun to be a planner there than in NYC right now.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Better yet: send those 3 billion to California HSR, where they’ll instantly turn into 6 billion because of the Prop 1A matching funds. The favorite to become California’s new Governor is Jerry Brown, who created the HSR Authority in the first place in the 1980s. California HSR is making some stupid decisions, but nothing nearly as colossal as a 175′ deep cavern.

  5. pea-jay says:

    really stupid simple question but who owns the existing tunnels and is responsible for their upkeep?

  6. Evan F. Boccardi says:

    As Jerry Seinfeld used to say, “That’s a shame.”

  7. Adam says:

    I’m hoping LaHood will convince Christie to work with the feds on something that will actually connect to NYP. Perhaps they can build the a station directly underneath the existing one or adjacent to the existing one rather than 20-30 stories deep further east?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Pulls the Plug on ARC Tunnel (NYT, Transpo Nation, MTR, Star-Ledger, SAS, […]

  2. […] Christie Pulls the Plug on ARC Tunnel (NYT, Transpo Nation, MTR, Star-Ledger, SAS) […]

  3. […] Christie Pulls the Plug on ARC Tunnel (NYT, Transpo Nation, MTR, Star-Ledger, SAS) […]

  4. […] Two weeks ago, he canceled the project due to this same claim after state officials conducted a bare-bones analysis of this project. When Ray Lahood, President Obama’s Secretary of Transportation, stepped in, Christie agreed […]

  5. […] direct jobs at a time when unemployment among contracting workers is already at 30%. (The blog 2nd Avenue Sagas says the cancellation means $478 million flushed down the drain for New Jersey […]

  6. […] at a time when unemployment among contracting workers is already at 30%. (The blog 2nd Avenue Sagas says the cancellation means $478 million flushed down the drain for New Jersey alone.) Jeffrey Zupan […]

  7. […] at a time when unemployment among contracting workers is already at 30%. (The blog 2nd Avenue Sagas says the cancellation means $478 million flushed down the drain for New Jersey alone.) Jeffrey Zupan […]

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