It’s been a rough few weeks for New Jersey Transit and Garden State rail riders. Shortly after announcing yet another massive fare hike, the agency suffered through a week that saw rush hour delays pile up due to problems with Amtrak’s North Hudson tubes. After commuters suffered through problems on four of five days last week, the agency has already announced that it does not anticipate a problem-free Monday. Riders are being asked to find alternate ways into the city, and PATH, ferries and buses will cross-honor tickets.
It’s also been a rough few weeks for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. With national polls placing him toward the bottom of the crowded field of GOP 2016 presidential hopefuls, Christie has engaged in something of a Hail Mary campaign to drum up any kind of enthusiasm for his run for the White House. At one point, he seemed like a clear front-runner before the Fort Lee traffic scandal and general voter anger toward his policy decisions grew louder and louder.
Faced with mounting frustration directed at him from his constituents over last week’s New Jersey Transit delays, Christie at first ducked the question before his aides helped him correctly level the blame at Amtrak. He then let loose a stunning display of political arrogance. He would, he claimed, build the ARC Tunnel if elected president. The Times’ Rick Rojas reported:
“If I am president of the United States, I call a meeting between the president, my secretary of transportation, the governor of New York and the governor of New Jersey and say, ‘Listen, if we are all in this even Steven, if we are all going to put in an equal share, then let’s go build these tunnels under the Hudson River,’ ” Mr. Christie said in an interview with the radio talk show host Larry Kudlow, which will be broadcast on Saturday on WABC-AM. “Then, everyone has an incentive to have the project run right, to run efficiently because everybody is on the hook.”
The governor’s comments — and his hypothetical phrasing — has attracted the attention of his critics, who say his statements emphasize how little he has done to help improve transportation. “This is not a hypothetical issue, this is a real issue, and he could be doing something about it,” said Martin Robins, the founding director of the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University, who was the director of the tunnel project during the mid-1990s. “The question is, what has he done, what will he do in the next 18 months as the governor of New Jersey?”
In his interview comments, Christie reiterated his own long-held belief that, as he said, “New Jersey was going to be responsible for every nickel of cost overruns, which at the time was estimated to be three to five billion dollars.” He claims that he asked New York’s leaders for fiscal assistance and that they turned him down. He did not mention that the Feds had pegged the cost overruns at $1 billion; that both the feds and New York were willing to work out a deal; and that instead of reserving the money for a better-designed and fairly-funded rail tunnel, he instead sunk into a series of road projects throughout the state, leaving rail riders with nothing.
Time and again, Christie has tried to paint his ARC decision as something it wasn’t, and he even has supporters from the rail community who point to the design flaws in ARC as it was planned. The decision to send the tunnel to a dead end underneath Macy’s was the wrong one, but it wasn’t worth canceling the project and removing New Jersey’s money from a rail expansion project. Christie may have backed into a decision that was, in part, defensible, but he did it for none of the right reasons.
The Times’ editorial team wasn’t buying what Christie was selling. In a piece that unfortunately ran on Saturday and not during a more well-read day of the week, they laid the blame for trans-Hudson woes squarely on Christie’s shoulders. Their argument echoes mine:
Governor Christie originally said he stopped work on the new tunnel because it would cost his state too much money. Then, he got the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to reroute $3 billion that had been allocated for the project. Instead of a tunnel to benefit the whole region, the money went to patch Mr. Christie’s roads and bridges.
Normally, state gasoline taxes provide much of the revenue for local transportation needs. But Mr. Christie, a Republican aiming for the White House, has not wanted to raise any taxes. This refusal and his use of the tunnel funds for other purposes have kept the chokehold on transit in the Northeast. And without sufficient tax revenue, New Jersey Transit has added debt and been forced to squeeze more money from its customers. This month, it announced fares would go up an average of 9 percent on Oct. 1.
Even Mr. Christie’s commissioner of transportation, Jamie Fox, has begun working hard to get a dedicated tax to fix the state’s roads, bridges and mass transit. The governor, perhaps recognizing that he has a transportation crisis on his hands, has simply said that when it comes to revenue, “everything is on the table.” If everything really is on the table, Mr. Christie should help legislators come up with a gas tax that starts to dig the state out of its transportation mess. At the same time, he should support Amtrak and others as they start over with new plans for a tunnel under the Hudson.
When he canceled ARC, Christie did it with an eye on the national stage. Ending an expensive government project bound to benefit the more liberal northeast played well with the Tea Party at a time when they were ascendant. But now aging infrastructure is in the news, and New Jerseyans know where to point their fingers over the current failures and future problems that await on the horizon. Instead of a rail tunnel in progress with a design that could have been improved five years ago, the region has nothing but problems — which is identical to Christie’s presidential hopes. It’s no coincidence that these two issues are going hand in hand, and if Christie the governor is serious about helping solve the trans-Hudson problems, he’s not out of office yet.
Coming next week: I take a look at NJ Transit’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week, and Gov. Chris Christie’s arrogantly political reaction to it. As you can imagine, I am far, far less than impressed with Christie’s comments.
Before I jump into the service advisories, allow me to revisit Wednesday’s post on deferred maintenance. I neglected to link to Neil deMause’s recent epic in the Village Voice regarding the MTA’s funding woes and its effect on deferred maintenance. It’s one of those so-called longreads, but it’s well worth the time, whether you’re idling away some hours in the weekend sun or sitting down for some quality reading time. Neil also wrote sidebars on the 7 line extension and the untimely death of the Second System in the 1920s.
As you ponder the system’s past, here’s your immediate future. It features lots of weekend service changes.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, 1 trains are suspended in both directions between 14 St and South Ferry. Take 23 trains and free shuttle buses instead.
- Uptown trains skip 18 St, 23 St, and 28 St.
- Downtown trains skip 28 St, 23 St, and 18 St, days and evenings.
- Free shuttle buses provide alternate service between Chambers St and South Ferry. Transfer between 23 trains and shuttle buses at Chambers St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Van Cortlandt Park-242 St bound 1 trains run express from 96 St to 145 St.
From 3:30 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, July 26, 2 trains are suspended in both directions between E 180 St and 3 Av-149 St. Free shuttle buses operate along two routes:
- Express shuttle buses run between E 180 St and 3 Av-149 St, stopping at the Hunts Point Av 6 station.
- Local shuttle buses make all stops between E 180 St and 3 Av-149 St.
- Transfer between trains and free shuttle buses at E 180 St and/or 3 Av-149 St.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, 2 trains run local between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26, 3 trains are suspended in both directions between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av. Free shuttle buses operate all weekend between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av making all station stops.
From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Midnight, Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26, 3 trains run local between Chambers St and 34 St-Penn Station.
From 10:45 p.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Crown Hts-Utica Av bound 4 trains run express from 125 St to Grand Central-42 St.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 7:30 a.m. Sunday, July 26, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, July 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, 4 trains are suspended in both directions between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av. Free shuttle buses operate all weekend between Crown Hts-Utica Av and New Lots Av making all station stops.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, 5 service is suspended. Take the 246 and free shuttle buses instead. Free shuttle buses operate along two routes:
- Limited shuttle buses make all stops between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St, and run express to 3 Av-149 St, stopping at the Hunts Point Av 6 station (from 3:30 AM Sat to 10 PM Sun).
- Dyre Av Local shuttle buses make all stops between Eastchester-Dyre Av and E 180 St only.
- For Lexington Av service, transfer between free shuttle buses and 6 trains at Hunts Point Av. Or, transfer between 2 and 4 trains at 149 St-Grand Concourse.
From 10:45 p.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall bound 6 trains run express from 125 St to Grand Central-42 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall bound 6 trains run express from Pelham Bay Park to Parkchester.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Inwood-207 St-bound A trains are rerouted via the F line from Jay St-MetroTech to W 4 St-Wash Sq, and run local to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, A trains are suspended between Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd and Rockaway Blvd. Brooklyn-bound A trains skip 88 St. Free shuttle buses operate between 80 St and Ozone Park-Lefferts Blvd. Transfer between shuttle buses and A trains at 80 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, July 26, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, July 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Inwood-207 St bound A trains run express from 59 St-Columbus Circle to 125 St.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26, 168 St-bound C trains are rerouted via the F line from Jay St-MetroTech to W 4 St-Wash Sq.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26, 168 St-bound C trains run express from 59 St-Columbus Circle to 125 St.
From 12:01 a.m. Saturday, July 25 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound D trains run local from 145 St to 59 St-Columbus Circle.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Sunday, July 26, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, July 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, World Trade Center-bound E trains run express from Forest Hills-71 Av to Queens Plaza.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, World Trade Center-bound E trains skip 75 Av and Briarwood.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Coney Island-Stillwell Av bound F trains skip Sutphin Blvd, Briarwood, and 75 Av.
From 6:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, July 25 and from 8:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, July 26, Broad St-bound J trains run express from Myrtle Av to Marcy Av.
From 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26, L service operates in two sections.
- Between 8 Av and Broadway Junction.
- Between Broadway Junction and Rockaway Pkwy, every 24 minutes.
From 6:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturday, July 25 and from 8:45 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sunday, July 26, Chambers St-bound M trains run express from Marcy Av to Myrtle Av.
From 11:30 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, N trains are rerouted via the D line in both directions between Coney Island-Stillwell Av and 36 St. Free shuttle buses and R trains provide alternate service.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Queens-bound N trains skip 49 St.
From 11:15 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Manhattan-bound Q trains run express from Kings Hwy to Prospect Park.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, July 26, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, July 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Queens-bound Q trains skip 49 St.
From 6:30 a.m. to 12 Midnight, Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26, Bay Ridge-95 St bound R trains run express from Forest Hills-71 Av to Queens Plaza.
From 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, July 26 and Sunday, July 27, Queens-bound R trains skip 49 St.
From 11:45 p.m. Friday, July 24 to 6:30 a.m. Sunday, July 26, and from 11:45 p.m. Sunday, July 26 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, July 27, Brooklyn-bound Q trains stop at 53 St and 45 St.
Shortly after I delved into the back-and-forth regarding potential solutions to the MTA’s capital funding woes, the latest episode in this soap opera unfolded as MTA CEO and Chair Tom Prendergast and Gov. Andrew Cuomo engaged in a very public dance regarding financing solutions. While Prendergast discussed the MTA’s commitment to cutting a few billion out of its spending plans, the Governor seemed to accept the idea that the state would have to cover around $8 billion if the MTA’s proposal falls into place. But as the dust settled, we were all no closer to understanding just how this gap will be closed.
The first move on Thursday afternoon came in the form of a letter from Prendergast in response to City and State comments issued earlier this week. He wrote to Mary Beth Labate and Anthony Shorris, agreeing to cut costs through the design-build process, but Prendergast noted that a significant funding gap of around $9.8 billion remained. It’s both admirable and telling that the MTA could trim the gap from $15 billion a few weeks ago to under $10 billion today, but that’s still a sizable gap.
To ensure full funding, Prendergast proposed a two-prong solution of sorts. First, he asked the city to contribute an additional $200 million per year over the next five years in addition to $1.5 billion for the non-Federal share of the next phase of the Second Ave. Subway. The state would then have to come up with only $8.3 billion over five years. “We believe this split is more than equitable to the City, particularly given that $22 billion of the $26.8 billion Capital Program is for projects in New York City,” Prendergast said.
A little more than an hour later, Gov. Cuomo took to the airwaves in a short interview with New York 1 to respond to Prendergast’s letter. He begrudgingly accepted Prendergast’s split of the funding burden: “The MTA divides the $9.8 billion by what they think is fair for the state and fair for the city and I could argue that it’s a little burdensome on the state. But I would accept the MTA’s numbers just to get it done and to go forward.”
He went on in this vein for a while:
Historically, the city was broke…Secondly, something like 90% of the MTA ridership is in the city and of the $26 billion in work, $22 billion of the $26 billion is in New York City. So New York City is a lion share of the riders. They’re a lion share of the assets and I understand they haven’t paid much historically, but the city’s financial condition is much different than it was and I think the MTA is asking for $200 million per year for five years. The city ends up paying a fraction of what the state would be spending, so I think it is fair and it allows us to resolve the matter and move forward. It’s a much larger number for the state, the state ends up paying $8 billion and the city would be a total of about $3 billion at the end of the day so it is, I think, more than fair to the city.
This was his way of slamming New York City — something Cuomo has done repeatedly in recent days as the relationship between he and the mayor has devolved into something you might find in a high school cafeteria. But Cuomo isn’t exactly correct. As the Citizens Budget Commission recently highlighted, the overwhelming majority of all MTA funding comes from the city. Perhaps Cuomo doth protest too much, but that’s politics.
Unfortunately, for here, the NY1 interview veered off the proverbial tracks. The host asked about Uber and then returned to the MTA. Cuomo indicated that he wasn’t keen on seeing the agency raise fares to fund the capital plan and has accepted that the state will fill a $8 billion gap. But the key question remains unanswered. Despite Thursday’s politicking, we still don’t know how the state will find $8 billion or if the city will do its part here. These are major questions that leave $10 billion in the five-year plan still unaccounted for.
So have we gotten anywhere? On the one hand, the Governor has committed to solving the MTA funding gap, and as we know, what Cuomo wants, he seems to get. But the mechanisms of the revenue streams will have to be hashed out amidst the halls of Albany and City Hall. We’re inching towards a resolution, but this saga is far from over. Cuomo is no savior yet.
Are New York City streets and, by extension, the MTA’s capital plan on the verge of becoming another victim of the ongoing soap opera/war of words between New York’s stubborn and intransigent governor and New York City’s neophyte and naive mayor? As political maneuverings and a rosier MTA financial picture make a deal more likely, the Move New York Plan, a key center piece to a comprehensive solution for NYC’s congestion woes that may finally have Gracie Mansion’s support, could be DOA if the Governor gets his way — and the Governor is going to get his way.
First, the good news. As part of its new financial plan released yesterday, the MTA has closed the gap in the 2015-2019 capital plan to a mere $12.8 billion. They’ve achieved these savings of $2.4 billion through what the agency has termed “unanticipated revenues, greater cost savings and more efficient operations.” Some of the money will go toward service enhancements; some will go toward the capital plan; and none will go toward averting biennial fare hikes.
As the MTA detailed, these savings are not reliable year-over-year sources of revenue and are derived largely from a strong economy. The agency drew in $401 million more than expected in real estate transaction taxes and cut pension expenses by $348 million. Fare and toll revenues were up while energy costs were down. “The additional funding we have announced today is a significant self-funded contribution to our extensive capital needs, but it still falls well short of what is necessary to keep our network in a state of good repair, much less to improve its operations and expand its reach,” MTA CEO and Chair Tom Prendergast said yesterday. “We hope our careful budgeting and innovative planning show our commitment to our Capital Program as we work with our city, state and federal funding partners to fully fund those needs.”
Facing an MTA with a smaller gap, though one still in need of a large sum of money, and battling concerns that Uber’s popularity, among other causes, has led to an increase in congestion in the Manhattan Central Business District, the de Blasio administration may finally be coming around on the Move New York fair tolling and traffic pricing plan. In a letter to Prendergast [PDF], Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris recognized the need to find funding for the MTA capital plan and expressed interest in the Move New York plan. Without funding, Shorris wrote, “the negative impact on the state economy will be substantial…we cannot go back to the days of infrastructure neglect and declining service from which it took us a generation to recover.”
Recognizing that more debt and higher fares will overburden riders, Shorris noted that a the solutions on the table will “demand financial sacrifice and political leadership.” He listed Move New York first and noted other plans to increase taxes and fees that support the MTA, but Shorris also noted that, while NYC residents bear the bulk of MTA funding, the state has ultimate control. Still, he issued an olive branch to Albany. “The City is ready and willing to work with the State to develop sound, long-term solutions,” he said. “We are ready to sit down today and have a full and frank discussion about comprehensive funding options for this essential engine of the State’s economy.”
In an alternate universe, Albany responded with a wide-open embrace of Shorris’ position, noting that city residents have always supported congestion pricing if revenue is dedicated to transit improvements, but this is Cuomo’s New York. The governor’s response was nearly immediate. “Been there done that…I don’t see how it would ever pass,” he said in response to the Move New York plan. In subsequent comments, he threw more cold water on the idea. “If you think that’s going to close the gap and that’s going to pass, then I think you’re going to be sorely disappointed once again,” he said.
This is of course a self-fulfilling prophecy from Cuomo. He has the political capital and the political will to see that a Move New York plan — one that would alleviate the environmental and economic destruction wrought by congestion while funding transit — would pass Albany, and the city wants it to happen. But what de Blasio proposes, Cuomo shoots down. That’s just the way of things these days, and the dysfunctional city/state relationship has the MTA in its cross-hairs.
So what’s the state’s solution? It’s not entirely clear yet, but in a letter sent this week to the MTA [pdf], Mary Beth Labate of the New York State Division of the Budget hinted at a solution. The state is concerned that the MTA is asking for too much since they usually do not spend all of the capital money collected within the five-year plan as originally budgeted, and she suggested design-build as a way to cut costs. So the path to a deal is set: The MTA will trim some spending and projects from this five-year plan, and the state will move on….something. What that something will be isn’t clear right now, but it seems unlikely to be the Move New York plan. For that, we all suffer.
During its meeting on Wednesday, the MTA Board will vote to approve a $205 million contract with Siemens and Thales Transport for a part of the communications-based train control installation along the Queens Boulevard line. As the MTA works to pre-qualify other companies with relevant expertise, these two companies — the only two pre-qualified to bid on contracts since 2006 — will spend 67 months installing CBTC along the western part of the Queens Boulevard line. This may mean five years of intermittent service changes, but it also may lead to, as the MTA claims, a “‘state of the art’ train control system.” And we all know it’s about time.
As part of the discussion about CBTC, Transit released the video I embedded above. It explains how the stations aren’t the only part of the subway system. In fact, much of the technology is older than any of us (and nearing, or well past, the end of its useful life). It’s supposed to explain how CBTC can help increase frequency of trains along the Queens Boulevard line, but it also underscores exactly how deferred maintenance throughout the decades can come back to hurt a transit agency.
For decades, the New York City subway system was a victim of politics. It initially operated as a quasi-private business overseen by the elected Board of Estimate with fare policy set not by the operators but by politicians who had to answer to constituents. So the five cent fare lingered and lingered and lingered, even when it became obvious that the transit operators couldn’t run the system breaking even, let alone generate revenue to keep up with technology innovation. This was a repetitive cycle until the MTA came into being in 1968, and the nascent agency had its work cut out for itself.
Since the early 1980s, the city, state and feds have poured billions of dollars into restoring some semblance of investment in the transit system, but the backlog was tremendous. Nearly since its founding, the subways hadn’t undergone top-to-bottom overhauls, and the early money was spent on upgrading rolling stock and restoring stations to a usable state. We’ve had massive track replacement and big-ticket capital projects too, but the signal systems have lingered as a relic of history. Now, the MTA is trying to play catch-up, and it’s going to take a long time.
Elsewhere, transit agencies can focus on technological upgrades without having to sacrifice other projects in part because costs are kept under control. Paris, for instance, can fully automate subway lines quickly as they’re working from a base of newer equipment and shut down the system at night. They don’t face the same labor and corruption issues that New York hasn’t been able to combat.
As you watch the MTA’s nine-minute video, think about how the choices we make today reverberate for decades into the future. We need a state-of-the-art subway system now because it’s the system we’re leaving to our children and grand-children. It has to function then at least as well (or perhaps as poorly) as ours does today. And that incremental $200 million investment for a part of the Queens Boulevard line doesn’t even begin to cover it. Now does anyone want to close that $15 billion capital program gap?
On an unseasonably warm Friday toward the end of his 12-year tenure, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a celebratory subway ride on the 7 train from Times Square to the station in progress at 34th St. and 11th Ave. Although the mayor had pushed to see the one-stop extension, funded nearly entirely through city money, open before he left office, the MTA couldn’t finish the project on time, and so his ride and subsequent press conference became a celebration in symbolism. The 7 line was supposed to open soon after Bloomberg rode off into the sunset, and he was content to smile for the cameras during his valedictory lap around the city.
“Today’s historic ride is yet another symbol of how New York City has become a place where big projects can get done,” Bloomberg said at the time. “This project is the linchpin of an ambitious transit-oriented, mixed-use development that is already transforming Manhattan’s Far West Side, and it demonstrates our Administration’s commitment over the past 12 years to invest in infrastructure that will allow our city to grow for generations to come.”
Since then, no one has gotten to ride on the 7 train since the MTA hasn’t been able to move past a few key problems. The long wait for revenue service, we learned today, should be over before summer ends. The MTA expects to open the 7 line extension by September 13 — presumably of 2015. As the agency has no plans to host a ribbon-cutting during the dog days of August, it’s possible that the new stop will open before September 13, but as they did with the Fulton St. Transit Center, it seems likely that Sunday, September 13 — Erev Rosh Hashanah — will be the big day for the mayor’s pet project.
It’s hard to view this as anything other than a relief. The MTA has the proverbial egg on its face due to its inability to get this project across the finish line until nearly 21 months after Bloomberg’s ride, and the project itself is marred by a costly game of chicken in which neither the city nor the MTA blinked over the $500 million cost-saving measure to cancel the plans for a second station at 10th Ave. and 41st. Though provisioning is in place for a side-platform station should the money materialize, there are no immediate plans in the works for anyone to fund or build this station.
In honor of the eventual opening, let’s take a look back at all the times the MTA promised to open the 7 line extension starting with the plan to build the Jets a new stadium atop the Hudson Yards and bring the Olympics to New York City. In 2005, as those plans percolated through MTA Board actions and various lawsuits, the MTA promised to open the 7 line extension before any potential Summer Olympics in 2012. Obviously, they missed that deadline.
In mid-2010 as work continued on the project, the MTA’s deadline had already slipped to June of 2013, but that was a short-lived target. By early 2012, MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu said the 7 line would likely be in testing by the end of 2013 and open for revenue service in 2014. In early 2013, Mayor Bloomberg threatened to push the 7 train himself if it meant running trains before he left office, and that is basically what he did.
During Bloomberg’s press conference, the MTA stated that they expected a summer 2014 opening date, but as we know, that too proved elusive. In January of 2014, the MTA predicated a late summer/early fall opening; in February of 2014, the MTA predicated a November opening; and in June of 2014, the MTA predicted an early 2015 opening, a timeline later firmed up in September.
It didn’t stop there. In December, the MTA discussed an opening during the second quarter of 2014, and in April, the agency pushed that back to the third quarter. And that’s where we stand now. Despite this tortured history, I wouldn’t bet against a September opening. The MTA is performing the final tests, and officials don’t usually set a firm date as they did today without ample faith in that decision. Still, stranger things have happened.
Ultimately, in a year or five years or ten years, no one will care that the MTA couldn’t open the 7 line extension on time, but residents along 2nd Ave. are rightly skeptical the MTA will deliver on promises to open that project by the end of 2016. Furthermore, politicians too are also skeptical — rightly or wrongly remains an open question — on the MTA’s ability to deliver. While delays are ultimately temporary, city pols are happy to use them as an excuse to keep badly-needed funding out of the MTA’s hands. Thus, as we did with the station at 41st St. and 10th Ave., we all lose. It’s just a few things to keep in mind as we hurtle toward September 13, the 7 line extension’s latest do-or-die day.
There is a question hovering around Amtrak’s Hudson River tunnels that no one really wants to ask. Faced with the wake-up call that was Superstorm Sandy and the lingering fallout from Gov. Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC Tunnel, will we act on additional trans-Hudson capacity before it’s too late? Will we even know when it’s almost too late to act? A rational society would have started work on Gateway or a similar project three years ago, but welcome to America in 2015, where only Amtrak seems to be driving forward with eye on a potentially calamitous future.
The backstory is simple: Even before Sandy, Amtrak’s tunnels were nearing the end of their life. The North River Tunnels opened for passenger service in 1910, and the need to supplement them so top-to-bottom overhaul doesn’t severely disrupt Northeast Corridor travel has been a pressing concern for a while. The ARC Tunnel plan was supposed to lighten the load so that most New Jersey Transit traffic would shift out of Amtrak’s tunnels. A few years after Christie’s move, Sandy dumped a load of corrosive saltwater into the tunnels, thus pushing them ever closer to A Problem.
What that Problem — with a capital P — may be is still open for debate. Barring a total catastrophe, the solution will likely require shutting down one of the two tubes for some period of time, thus reducing trans-Hudson capacity from 24 trains per hour to around six. That’s a Problem, and even the threat of such a future — which isn’t exactly too hard to imagine — should spur action.
Lately, it has in fact spurred some action but from an unlikely source. Amtrak is taking the charge, and the national rail agency is using every ounce of political support it can muster to push through Gateway. As a recent piece in Crain’s New York detailed, the agency’s leaders think they just might be able to succeed. Andy Hawkins had more on Amtrak’s Chair Anthony Coscia’s attempts to drag this project from an idea to reality. The story begins with Coscia stating, “We’re doing it” and goes from there:
Mr. Coscia said Amtrak could begin the environmental review process this fall, and has already spent about $300 million on preparatory work and land acquisition, even though the estimated $15 billion needed for the larger Gateway project, which includes the tunnel, has not been lined up.
“We’re taking precious resources and spending it on a project we don’t have all the money to build,” he said. “It’s either a very silly decision or a very critical one.”
He’s betting on the latter. By his reckoning, a tunnel has to be built sooner or later, and sooner is better. The two heavy-rail tunnels connecting New Jersey and New York are more than 100 years old. and are showing their age. Twenty-four trains pass through the tunnels each hour—20 from New Jersey Transit, four from Amtrak—and officials predict that within 20 years, one or both tunnels will need to be closed for repairs. That would reduce capacity to six trains per hour, because trains traveling in opposite directions would need to wait for the lone remaining tunnel to clear…
Mr. Coscia said Amtrak has sketched out a potential financing package that includes federal funds, infrastructure bonds and Amtrak’s own cash. He said it would premature to discuss who might contribute what. However, the project’s numerous stakeholders can be expected to chip in. They include the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, New Jersey Transit, New York City, the states of New York and New Jersey, the federal government and of course Amtrak.
As Hawkins notes in his article, Gateway is both incredibly necessary and incredibly daunting. It would increase capacity across the Hudson River at a time when transit absolutely must expand to support growing the East Coast, and without Gateway, the worst-case scenario is pretty bad. Meanwhile, Amtrak has to scope the project and assess the costs of land acquisition on both sides of the river as well as a new or expanded terminal in Manhattan and plan for potential connections eastward and northward.
As we’ve seen, massive transit projects in the East Coast happen in half-decades (or longer) rather than in any sane timeline, and Gateway will be no exception. At a time of major political divides in Congress, Amtrak needs all the support it can get. It’s promising that the agency is going out on a limb to spend money today for something it may not be able to build tomorrow. At least they’re thinking about the future when few other agencies, both local and national, are. Can they deliver? It, of course, remains to be seen, but it’s not particularly hyperbolic to state that New York’s economic future may depend on it.
With the Gateway Tunnel project back in the news (more on that next week), the idea of a new Penn Station, a seemingly inseparable part of that plan, is creeping through the coverage. At some point in the not-to-distant future, various stakeholders will have to start having serious conversations about these plans, but for now, we’re still in that stage where ideas are being tossed around left and right.
One intriguing thought comes to us from Alon Levy. He first suggested doing away with the Penn Station South element of the Gateway proposal all together and simply running trains through to Grand Central. And then, earlier this week, he offered up his take on the debate over the future of the current Penn Station: Turn into a hole in the ground.
His idea is fairly simple: The street would serve as a mezzanine, and there’s no real need for the anachronistic amenities of a head house. This ain’t, in other words, the 1930s. Despite his intentions as admittedly trollish at the start, Levy later offered up a technical defense of his plan, and it’s well worth your read. The problem is one of politics. Our region’s politicians prefer monuments to themselves and often eschew practical and less costly approaches. A covered hole in the ground wouldn’t lend itself to a fanciful ribbon-cutting, and those calling for a new Penn Station will say Levy’s idea is hardly worth the Moynihan Station name. What a shame.
Meanwhile, it’s Friday night, and you know what that means. Click through for the service changes. Read More→
Back in October of 2010, then-gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo let slip a few words on the MTA and transit funding. It was a rare moment of transportation candor for a candidate who hadn’t even acknowledged the MTA existed throughout much of the summer, and his comments then certainly ring true through his actions today. Without giving details on sources of transit funding, he said, “There’s going to be a number of revenue raisers. The instinct is going to be to say ‘more money more money more money.’ I understand that. Part of the discipline I want to bring is a fiscal discipline to the state and the MTA. The answer can’t always be more money.”
Flash-forward five years to today. The MTA is mired in another economic crisis, this one on the capital side, and after years of doing nothing, Cuomo is still simply doing nothing. Funding proposals, some more politically challenging than others, are awaiting action, but the Governor is content simply to parrot himself. In comments earlier today, Cuomo reiterated his tried-and-true line. The MTA’s problems, he said, will not be addressed with “more money more money more money.” Considering that the MTA’s problems are a distinct lack of money, it’s bold to shoot down the end result before even tackling how to get there, but that’s Cuomo for one.
On the one hand, Cuomo is accidentally right. The solution to the MTA’s problems shouldn’t just be only more money; it should also involve an aggressive attempt at getting capital construction costs under control through some combination of union-focused work-rule reform, a better bidding process and a concerted effort to understand why transit construction costs in New York City are exponentially greater than anywhere else in the developed world. But on the other hand, the solution will involve more money, and Cuomo’s new-found fiscal restraint is stunning considering his past actions.
As recently as April of 2014, the MTA had a chance to address some of the sources of its rampant costs as negotiations with the TWU over a new contract lingered unresolved, but Cuomo needed the support of labor in what was then his reelection campaign. So, by all accounts, as is his wont as the agency’s ultimate boss, he pushed the MTA to accepte a contract very favorable to its workers. The MTA exacted no work-rule reform or other staffing concessions that could have led to cost savings. Now, faced with a $15 billion gap, Cuomo’s answer is to withhold funding or any solution.
I’m not keen on giving the MTA a pure blank check for capital costs without reform, but Cuomo’s faux come-to-Jesus moment on the MTA’s cost woes is 18 months and a few billion dollars too late. Plus, he needs a new line. “More money more money more money” is going to be the answer in the end.
As the public deadline for completion of the Second Ave. Subway nears, stories about the W train have been popping up with near-monthly regularity. So even though the MTA stated last month that Astoria service wouldn’t be reduced when the Q is re-routed to the Upper East Side, they were happy to reiterate this position when amNew York came a-knockin’. Although the MTA hasn’t identified just how service patterns will change or what the new Astoria service will be called, this time around, word on the street is that reviving the W is firmly under consideration.
Marc Beja’s story covers some familiar territory. The MTA isn’t saying much publicly about service patterns, but the agency has held various off-the-record conversations with rider advocates and neighborhood groups acknowledging that the current N train alone is not sufficient for Astoria subway riders. One of the ideas on the table is reviving the W — a local in Manhattan that terminated at Whitehall St. and ran to Astoria.
Reiterating the MTA’s position on subway frequency, Kevin Ortiz, a Transit spokesman, said to the daily, “The current level of service in Astoria will not decrease. Reviving the W, he said, “certainly has been discussed; no decision has been made.” That the MTA already has yellow and black W roll signs and route bullets in the BMT rolling stock is probably telling, but no decision has to be made until a few months before the Second Ave. Subway opens — which at best means next summer will be the deadline for the W’s rebirth.
While it’s always comforting for Astorians to hear that their subway service will not be worse off once the Second Ave. Subway opens, Beja’s article delves into the ins and outs of re-signing the system for a new service. In these paragraphs are some gems:
As far as communicating the W’s return, the MTA has already budgeted for new signs and maps once the Second Avenue Subway goes online. It shouldn’t create extra confusion or costs to make other changes at the same time.
John Montemarano, director of station signage since 1994 and an MTA employee of 35 years, has seen the birth of the W, V and Second Avenue Subway, as well as the death of the W, V and No. 9. Other lines have shrunk, grown and changed because of ridership shifts, budget changes, the 9/11 attacks and Sandy damage. Now, new stations are being finished along Second Avenue and the No. 7 line.
If the MTA adds or revives a line, Montemarano said he would need about four months to get the transit system ready. It would take that long for the 48 workers in his department to survey the stations, design signs, check their accuracy and then create signs in the Brooklyn shop that would be loaded into trains to carry them to each station for installation. A small station would need about 60 new signs, while a larger station like 34th Street-Herald Square will need closer to 800. Small circular decals cost about $5 to make up, while bigger signs can be upwards of $200.
This is a glimpse inside a bureaucracy at work, but there’s also a quote from Richard Barone at the RPA that highlights how cumbersome this four-month lead time for a service change can be. While the signage team says they have these types of changes “down to a science,” Transit has been loathe to experiment with different routing at different times a day. “In some ways,” Barone said, “I wish the MTA would play around with services more, sort of experiment with service changes more.”
With the need to bring online some new service in a year and a half, the MTA has a chance to play around with services. They could run the W through the Montague St. Tunnel and down 4th Ave. to Bay Parkway as supplemental local service. They could restore express service to the N while running the W local or use the W as an express in Manhattan with the N local. This is a great time to assess changing transit patterns and customer needs along a stretch of line many consider to be underserved right now. We’ll find out if the MTA’s hulking bureaucracy can think creatively for a few months as the W — or something similar — returns.