Looking at New York for a cross-Hudson solution


New Jersey expects New York to pay for some of the next cross-Hudson tunnel.

When Gov. Chris Christie killed the ARC Tunnel nearly five months ago, one of his biggest complaints concerned the allocation of funds. New Jersey, the primary benefactors of the new tunnel, were expected to add $3 billion of their own money as well as any cost overruns while New York was on the hook for nothing. We could argue over the Port Authority allocations, but the truth of the matter was that New York State would have enjoyed a new tunnel without paying much. It was a valid complaint.

This week, with plans to build either an Amtrak-sponsored Gateway Tunnel or an extension of the 7 line to Secaucus, Christie reiterated his campaign promises. He would support increased transit spending, he said, as long as it’s a good deal for his constituents and as long as New York shoulders some of the costs as well. “I’m ready to invest in mass transit between New Jersey and New York. I’m just not willing to be fleeced for it,” the governor said. “That’s what the ARC was, a fleecing.”

During a transportation summit on Wednesday, Christie emphasized that point. “We have a better project that I know at some point someone will come to us and ask us to contribute to, and we will stand ready to do that,” he said. “But we will do that as partners with the federal government and Amtrak, and we will do that, I am certain, only under the condition that New York City and state contribute as well.”

As he again reiterated his belief that canceling ARC and throwing 20 years of planning out the window was a good idea, he continued: “Do we need another tunnel under the Hudson River for mass-transit? Yes, I’ve never denied that. I am not going to sign on as governor to deals that are bad for the taxpayers of New Jersey; bad deals in terms of the way the project is put together; and bad deals in terms of fairness in the region.”

That’s all well and good, but Christie’s comments, as they often do, raise some points. First, over at Gateway Gab, Jeremy Steinemann is skeptical. Steinemann is concerned about Christie’s decision to prioritize road widening coupled with his unwillingness to raise the gas taxes and says we’ve heard it all before.

Christie’s vocal support of mass-transit but his lack of action bears a resemblance to the rhetoric he displayed in the Gubernatorial election in 2009. His cancelation of the ARC project, for example, came as a surprise after he repeatedly expressed his support of the project as a candidate. What is clear, however, is that Christie will not push a trans-Hudson rail tunnel on his own. The political will must come from NY, NJ and the federal government.

But is Christie wrong in his assertions? Once upon a time, as on Subchatter noted on Thursday, the ARC Oversight Committee — available on this 2003 website snapshot — consisted of officials from New Jersey Transit, the MTA and Port Authority. New York had a say and a stake in the project, but as the decade wore on, New York’s role diminished to essentially nothing. Perhaps we can take comfort in believing that was the project’s fatal flaw, but Christie’s willingness to siphon rail money to roads makes me skeptical.

The overarching issue with ARC, Gateway of the 7 line extension is one of local government and expenditures. Who stands to benefit most from the new tunnel — New York businesses who can bring more commuters and tourists into the city or New Jersey residents who will find their commutes quicker and less stressful? Should New Jersey pay for transportation improvements that only incidentally end up in New York or should New York add more to the pot for a tunnel that adds to its economic allure?

The answer to those question is, obviously enough, probably both. To realize a new cross-Hudson rail tunnel, New York will have to add more to the pot, and they likely should. In an age of stretched state budgets though, it’s tough to see where the money will come from, and we may be in for a long wait until the next tunnel breaks ground.

Categories : Gateway Tunnel

20 Responses to “Looking at New York for a cross-Hudson solution”

  1. Beamish says:

    The cost split was one of three fatal flaws in ARC, the others being another cost issue: the disingenuous separation of the Portal Bridge from the costestimate; and a politically forced design compromise placing the tunnel too deep to make the grade into the existing Penn Station.

    However, I still take issue with the parochial assertion that the project is of greater benefit to NJ than NY. The delta in benefits is so thin as to effectively be zero – just as the costs should be 50/50 the benefits are likewise evenly split. The commuters might be NJ State residents but they pay New York State Income Tax. In fact, living in NJ and working in NY is probably the dumbest personal taxation burden in the nation when you roll in the obscene NJ property taxes. The skilled and educated labor pool in NYC is insufficient to meet the demand of employers who are just as dependent on commuters from NJ as from Long Island or the Hudson Valley.

    The Port Authority was specifically created to address projects like this. It did not belong at NJ Transit anymore than it belongs at Amtrak. The Gateway project is still flawed by poor politics as well as a thorough lack of engineering knowledge by those same political entities.

    • Alex says:

      Actually, many people choose to live in New Jersey and work in New York for the specific reason that the taxes are lower. There is no longer a commuter tax, and therefore New Jersey residents take home about 5% more pay than New York residents because of that discrepancy.
      If New Jersey wants New York to pay its share of the ARC, then it should not object of New York re-institutes the commuter tax.

      • Donald says:

        What taxes in NJ are lower? NJ property taxes are HIGHER than NY. And the NY commuter tax was found unconstitutional by the courts because it did not apply to people who lived upstate. NY cannot re-instate it unless it also applies to peoople living outside of NYC, but within NY State (not to mention that other states will retaliate with their own commuter taxes).

      • Beamish says:

        The commuter tax was a purely a New York City item. It was ruled a violation of the New York State Constitution, not the Federal Constitution – in fact the suit was brought by a resident of Westchester County.

        New York STATE Income Tax is collected on all people employed within New York State. I know – I paid it for 7 years. NY State Income Tax is HIGHER than NJ State Income Tax and NJ property taxes are among the highest in the nation, higher than NY. It is NOT cheaper to live in NJ and work in NY.

        • Alon Levy says:

          You shouldn’t look at average property taxes; you should look at average suburban property taxes. Does North Jersey really have lower property taxes than Long Island?

    • Russell Warshay says:

      When was the New York commuter tax reinstated?

  2. Bolwerk says:

    This is silly. Christie is not interested in solving his own problems. He seriously just has a hardon for sticking it to New York. Christie would probably consider anything that left New Jersey paying its share of the costs a fleecing. New York made a more than reasonable contribution to ARC through its share of PA revenues. ARC was too expensive anyway, but the proportions paid by each state were very fair. And heck, it’s perfectly legitimate to disagree with that, and it’s perfectly legitimate to feel NYS/NYC should pay more, but what is outright absurd is refusing to solve the problem because the other guy with other problems has different priorities. It’s hard to argue with the fact, that while ARC benefits NYS/NYC, it isn’t a magic bullet for NYS/NYC transportation problems – for NJ, it’s critical. A new rail tunnel to NYC is worth every penny for NJ, even if no one else pays a nickle.

    In the mean time, NYS/NYC really shouldn’t be wasting time trying to help NJ fund a cross-Hudson tunnel anymore. There are five boroughs of transportation problems we can focus on that are at least as important as cross-Hudson transport. Find other ways to reduce traffic congestion in Manhattan. NYS can’t unilaterally force a toll increase from New Jersey, unfortunately, but congestion pricing and increasing the costs of parking could go a long way towards at least calming traffic a bit. Most of the advantages NYS would reap for itself from ARC would be achieved by the Tappan Zee rail connection, so that should get some focus.

    • Jonathan R says:

      I like what Bolwerk says here: “what is outright absurd is refusing to solve the problem because the other guy with other problems has different priorities.”

      It’s my opinion that better rail access from New Jersey to New York chiefly benefits New Jersey. It makes NJ more attractive to people who work in NY. The converse is not true. If I lived in New York and had a job in New Jersey, I’d drive to work and take advantage of the reverse commute.

  3. John-2 says:

    ARC vesus the Gateway or 7 extension options is a bit like the PATH lines to the World Trade Center and 33rd Street. In both cases the former benefits New York by bringing people into the city. But it doesn’t have many direct uses for New Yorkers because the train dead-ends with one stop in Manhattan and then heads back across the Hudson.

    Both of the alternative options still would have New Jersey as the prime beneficiary, but like PATH’s Sixth Avenue branch, they offer some functionality to people within the city beyond what ARC would have provided (Gateway potentially has functionality for people living between Massachusetts and Northern Virginia on the Northeast Corridor). So the two alternatives’ functionality for people actually living in NYC and NYS does justify additional spending by the city and state in a way the ARC option did not.

    City, state or federal commitments to a new tunnel option put the ball back in Christie’s court, though given the molasses-like pace of getting any transportation projects done, especially in the current political climate, we”re likely to see the issue remain pretty much where it is now all the way to the 2013 gubernatorial and mayoral campaigns. But it could become a problem for the governor then if the mayoral hopefuls sound more excited about a new cross-Hudson tunnel than he does.

    • Adirondacker says:

      ARC would have freed up space in the existing tunnels so that Amtrak could run more trains through them. Woulda been a wash for people from Mass. or Va. Argument could be made that ARC was better for them because ARC offered a bit more capacity.

  4. JebO says:

    I have two very cynical comments about this.

    First, Christie knows he’s never going to get any help from New York State, which can’t even afford the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, Second Avenue Subway beyond Phase 1, or even basic maintenance on the subway, LIRR and Metro-North after the current capital plan funding runs out at the end of the year. So for him to say that he just didn’t like the way the project was funded is really just a nice, dressed-up way for him to talk about killing the project. He apparently had no problems with the way NJ highway widening projects were funded.

    Second, the majority of the region’s high-paying jobs are in Manhattan. The main function of regional rail lines is to allow residents to access those high-paying jobs. So think of a regional railroad line as a giant straw, sucking money out of the city and bringing it to the suburbs, in the form of salaries that pay for big houses and all the businesses that cater to their occupants. That’s why if NJ wanted a piece of that enormous economic pie, it would have funded the tunnel. Yes, there’s some NYC tourism that takes place and some reverse commuting, both of which send money the other way, and yes, New Yorkers like to visit New Jersey for a host of reasons. But the large majority of regional railroad trips are made for the purpose of normal commuting. With the collapse of ARC, more of the money from business conducted in Manhattan will stay in New York State, as Manhattan workers who would have located in NJ gravitate toward NYC, Long Island, and the northern suburbs. In a way, the cancellation of ARC was a big boost for those areas. Why would they agree to spend money to take that boost away?

  5. Scott E says:

    If the goal is to help the REGION (the second word in ARC), then a project which primarily benefits Amtrak should be out. Amtrak brings people between New York and more distant cities like Philadelphia, Boston, an Baltimore. It hardly is used for commuters and hardly benefits the local commuters. For the most part, New Yorkers have little to gain with increased Amtrak service – I’d venture to guess that they’d probably see more benefit from increased freight rail (in the form of lower-cost goods and less traffic). It is for this reason that both Paul Mulshine of the Star-Ledger and Newsweek‘s Robert J. Samuelson do not support high-speed rail and instead say money should be invested in regional transit. (Both articles are quite interesting, although the Newsweek one is quite hyperbolic. This may actually make a good topic for a new post — hint, hint 🙂 )

    The true bottlenecks which frustrate commuters on a daily basis, and affect where they choose to live and work, is in the regular commuter lines. This is where the attention should be focused. I’d love to see a combination of ARC and Gateway. Keep the “Penn Station South” aspect of Gateway (with a reopened Gimbel’s corridor to 6th Ave), scrap Moynihan Station, and keep ARC’s loop at Secaucus allowing NJT’s northern branches to come into Penn Station. I do like the 7-to-Secaucus idea, but I’m not so sure that New Jersey suburbs want the growth and “urbanization” that comes with a subway stop.

    Then, somebody has to look beyond their respective fiefdoms and do something to get trains running trains from New Jersey to Long Island. Not only will it make things a heck of a lot more efficient and convenient, but there could be mutual benefits as well. Just yesterday, a NJ Transit train ventured out of its defined territory to help out a train in distress in Southeast Pennsylvania. Wouldn’t it be nice if LIRR could come to NJT’s aid (or vice-versa) every once in awhile?

    • ant6n says:

      NJ Transit and LIRR should operate fully through-routed lines…

    • Alon Levy says:

      Samuelson is a hack, who quotes people who are against transit of any kind. HSR critics who actually have a clue, like Glaeser, are supportive of the idea of real HSR in the Northeast, though maybe not of the cost.

      • Bolwerk says:

        Both Samuelson and Munshine are clownish morons. They really may as well be on Fox News.

        • Alon Levy says:

          Samuelson’s hackery is very different from Fox-style hackery. Samuelson is a centrist hack; he thinks in terms of simple soundbites like “deficits bad, balanced budgets good,” but he applies them to both parties. For one, he supports raising the gas taxes, like the rest of the Washington Post establishment.

          • Bolwerk says:

            Oh, yes, he’s too smart for Fox. Randall O’Toole speaks his language. Yet he still strokes to Dagny Taggart.

  6. jim says:

    Gateway is an unconstrained proposal. If it’s ever built, its actual scope will be determined by the people who bring money to the table. Penn South is for NJT, Moynihan for New York. If New Jersey brings money to the table, Penn South (in some form) will end up as part of the project. If it doesn’t, it won’t. If New York brings money to the table, Moynihan, in some form, will end up as part of the project. If it doesn’t, it won’t. I don’t understand why Christie should premise his participation on New York’s. Their interests are in different aspects of the project.

    The RRWG’s suggestion of a buildable phase I, the currently planned Northern Portal bridge, but not the Southern, and just the tunnels into existing Penn Station would not satisfy either New York or New Jersey, but is potentially fundable without the explicit participation of either (their implicit participation via the Port Authority would be needed, though). If Christie doesn’t play, something like that is likely to be what’s built, if anything is. Is that what Christie wants?

    • Bolwerk says:

      Oh, I doubt this. The additional tunnels are necessary, but I don’t think Moynihan, Penn South, or any other headhouse expansions are. Heck, eight or ten tracks with all through service should be enough for Penn. Only Amtrak has a reason for long dwell times, and even then it doesn’t make sense for them to use Penn as a terminal.

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