Fantasy subway maps have long been a passion of Internet railfans. Beyond imagining a city with a Second Ave. Subway that reaches from the Bronx to Brooklyn or a fully-realized IND Second System, I’ve seen maps with the Triboro RX line, various cross- and inter-borough routes and service shot past terminals in Queens to airports and neighborhoods underserved by the subway. Every now and then, someone proposed building out the 7 line to a cross-Hudson terminus in New Jersey, but that idea is generally concerned too fanciful and far-fetched to be a reality. Until now, that is.
With the ARC Tunnel dead, federal dollars out there for the taking and the need to expand cross-Hudson River rail offerings still a pressing one, the city is working on a plan that would send the 7 line under the river to Secaucus, New Jersey, The Times reported this evening. This project would include money for a stop at West 41st St. and 10th Ave. and would extend the subway westward from 34th St. and 11th Ave. to Secaucus Junction in the Garden State where passengers could connect to and from New Jersey Transit. It would, as Charles Bagli and Nicholas Confessore wrote, “extend the New York City subway outside the city for the first time, giving New Jersey commuters direct access to Times Square, Grand Central Terminal and Queens, and to almost every line in the system.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office acknowledged the idea but noted that it’s only a thought on paper. “Extending the 7 line to New Jersey could address many of the region’s transportation capacity issues at a fraction of the original tunnel’s cost, but the idea is still in its earliest stages,” spokesman Andrew Brent said “Like others, we’re looking at — and open to discussing — any creative, fiscally responsible alternatives.”
Bagli and Confessore offered up more on the details, which stem from an internal memo produced by the Hudson Yards Development Corporation:
Like the project scuttled by Mr. Christie, this proposed tunnel would expand a regional transportation system already operating at capacity and would double the number of trains traveling between the two states during peak hours. But it would do so at about half the cost, an estimated $5.3 billion, according to a closely guarded, four-page memorandum circulated by the city’s Hudson Yards Development Corporation.
Unlike the old project, the new plan does not require costly condemnation proceedings or extensive tunneling in Manhattan, because the city is already building a No. 7 station at 34th Street and 11th Avenue, roughly one block from the waterfront. In July, a massive 110-ton tunnel boring machine completed drilling for the city’s $2.1 billion extension of the No. 7 line from Times Square to the new station.
Still, the proposal faces a number of daunting political, financial and logistical hurdles in an era of diminishing public resources. Mr. Christie, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Governor-elect Andrew M. Cuomo of New York would have to agree to make the tunnel a high priority and work in lock step to obtain the city, state and federal funds needed to make it happen.
On a practical level, this project, which I’d almost label a pie in the sky, faces numerous hurdles. First is the matter of $5.3 billion. Bagli and Confessore note that it “no longer seems possible” for the city to secure the $3 billion in federal transportation money New Jersey sacrificed when Gov. Chris Christie canceled the ARC Tunnel. At the least, the city will have to compete with everyone else in American for the dollars.
For this project to work for the city, New Jersey would have to kick in some money as well, but Christie seems intent on using the $3 billion he pledged to the ARC Tunnel for other state transportation projects already on the table. “The issue again will come down to what will Governor Christie say,” Jeffrey Zupan of the RPA said to The Times.
Both New York and New Jersey would have to engage in an environmental impact study as well, but Bloomberg hopes to use those developed for the ARC project. Bloomberg has yet to present the plan to current Gov. David Paterson or Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo. Paterson is said to be “intrigued” by this idea, according to one aide. “Getting cars off the road, reducing congestion and providing another access point for commuters between New York and New Jersey is going to benefit the region from a job-creation and development standpoint,” Lawrence Schwartz said to The Times.
On a certain level, I’m wary about this plan. It’s definitely thinking big, and the city needs to be thinking big. As far as transit is concerned, we stopped thinking big seventy years ago, and a direct subway connection to New Jersey would be a boon for the city. But other than the increased capacity an additional tunnel would bring, the subway isn’t the modality best suited to achieve that goal. The four-mile distance isn’t prohibitive for a subway, and as PATH has shown, it’s certainly possible to maintain a cross-Hudson rail line. A subway connection via Secaucus Junction doesn’t add the same value commuter rail tunnels with a multi-track terminal would.
Cynically, I want to say that this project seems designed to further support the real estate interests working to develop the Hudson Yards. Already, New Jersey commuters have to take New Jersey Transit to reach the subway, and they can get the 7th or 8th Ave. lines at Penn Station. This plan would simply mean that they would still have to take NJ Transit to reach the subway and would have to suffer through additional stops and a potential transfer before reaching midtown. Without a true one-seat ride, the time-saving benefits of the ARC plan are lessened.
Ultimately, I’d rather see the city pledge $5.3 billion to subway improvements in underserved areas within the five boroughs before it starts to look outside for expansions. Staten Island as well as areas of Queens and Brooklyn need subway routes, and the non-Manhattan connections between the outer boroughs need to be beefed up. As far as fantasy subway maps go, looking toward New Jersey would be last on my wishlist even if it’s first on the city’s.
That said, I can’t discount the importance of thinking big. Plans like these just aren’t proposed any longer, and if the city can figure out a way to make it work economically while ensuring the feasibility of this plan from a transportation standpoint, by all means do it. Even if it the impact isn’t as deep as that of the ARC Tunnel would have been, a 7 line subway extension to Secaucus would do wonders for cross-Hudson travel.
New York’s politicians have recognized that reality, and if they can build support, this idea could being to move forward. “This is a bold idea that must be given serious and immediate consideration,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said. “Building the ARC tunnel and extending the 7 line for a second stop are both critical to growing the New York economy for the coming decades, and I will fight to deliver any available federal funds to make that happen.”