Archive for Gateway Tunnel
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over three and a half years since New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie unilaterally canceled the ARC Tunnel. Yet, it’s a decision that keeps coming back to haunt the entire region. Amtrak has proposed picking up the slack with their Gateway Tunnel, but that’s decades off. Now, questions have emerged concerning the region’s ability to cope with aging infrastructure and no replacement plans in place.
The latest comes to us from Amtrak. As the two Hudson River tunnels creep up there in years, the national rail agency has warned that age will become a major issue sooner rather than later. Amtrak’s chief put their life expectancy at “less than 20 years” and urged everyone involved to start funding — and then building — Gateway.
Dana Rubinstein had more:
The end may be near for the New York region’s cross-harbor rail tunnels, with no good alternative in sight. “I’m being told we got something less than 20 years before we have to shut one or two down,” said Amtrak C.E.O. Joseph Boardman at the Regional Plan Association’s conference last week at the Waldorf Astoria. “Something less than 20. I don’t know if that something less than 20 is seven, or some other number. But to build two new ones, you’re talking seven to nine years to deliver, if we all decided today that we could do it.”
Tom Wright, the Regional Plan Association’s executive director, described Boardman’s remarks as “a big shock.” “I’ve been hearing abstractly people at Amtrak and other people at New Jersey Transit say for years the tunnels are over 100 years old and we have to be worried about them,” he said. “To actually have Joe put something concrete on the table, less than 20 years … Within my office, there was a level of, ‘Wow, this is really serious.’”
In addition to age, as Rubinstein notes, Sandy damage is going to play a big role in this tale. The Amtrak tunnels, by some accounts, suffered approximately half a billion dollars in damage during the storm surge, but unlike, say, the Montague St. Tunnel, Amtrak can’t just take one of their cross-Hudson out of service for a few months to make repairs. That would reduce capacity from 24 trains per hour to just six, and as Amtrak owns them, the people who would suffer the most from single-tracking would be New Jersey Transit riders. Thus, it all comes back to ARC as without ARC, New Jersey Transit is beholden to Amtrak’s whims.
An Amtrak spokesman later tried to walk back Boardman’s comments. “As you know the Hudson River Tunnels are more than 100 years old and were filled with salt water during Super Storm Sandy, which can be very corrosive,” Craig Schultz said. “Amtrak is working with an expert to assess the condition of the tunnel structures since the storm, and that work is ongoing. I think the point Mr. Boardman was making in his comments at the RPA Assembly is that damage from Sandy accelerated what was already an urgent need for additional tunnel capacity between New York and New Jersey. We expect that the tunnels are going to need major rehabilitation, which can only happen with prolonged service outages permitted by a new tunnel.”
So where do we go from here? As with all of these major infrastructure projects, Gateway needs a champion, and right now, it doesn’t have one. It needs money, and right now, it doesn’t have it. Will we wait to fund it until it’s too late or will someone come to their senses before we have to live in an era when six trains per hour can cross the Hudson River? The clock is ticking.
With Sandy money flowing New York City’s way, Senator Chuck Schumer was able to wrangle enough dollars earlier this year to launch part of the Gateway Tunnel. Specifically, the state’s senior senator secured the $185 million needed to preserve Gateway’s right-of-way under the Hudson Yards development under the rubric of flood prevention. Yesterday, officials gathered to celebrate the ground-breaking of this monumental concrete box that may, years and billions of dollars in the future, host a new trans-Hudson train tunnel for Amtrak.
“The value of the work on this concrete casing cannot be underestimated as it preserves a possible pathway for new tunnels designed to increase the reliability and capacity for Amtrak and New Jersey Transit’s operations and will step up the resiliency of the rail system against severe weather events like Super Storm Sandy,” Amtrak Chairman Tony Coscia said.
This current construction effort is a two-year project to build a casing between 10th and 11th Avenues in order to save what Amtrak called a “possible right-of-way” for two new tunnels into Penn Station. It is slated to be completed in October of 2015. When or if Gateway and the corresponding Moynihan Station plan will ever see the light of day remains to be seen.
Interestingly, the Sandy part of this picture could spur Amtrak and the feds to action though. As the rail agency detailed in its press release, the storm surge from Sandy flooded four of the six tunnels under the Hudson and East Rivers. This is the first time in their 103-year history that the tunnels were inundated, and nearly 600,000 daily riders on Amtrak and New Jersey Transit saw their commutes disrupted. The casing, wide enough for a two-track train tunnel, will be flood-proof, though Amtrak’s materials do not explain how.
Before Gateway can become a reality, Amtrak will have to replace the Portal Bridge and extend the concrete casing to the west to 12th Avenue, but the region’s politicians remain ever hopeful. “Today’s groundbreaking is about so much more than making way for the Amtrak Gateway tunnels,” New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez said. “It’s about celebrating a $185 million investment in our future, in keeping our competitive edge in the New Jersey-New York area, in our preparedness against severe weather events like Super Storm Sandy. We can’t be satisfied with a 19th century infrastructure in a 21st century world and expect to stay competitive in a high-tech, fast-paced, global economy. For the growth of the entire region, it’s critical that we invest in new rail tunnels across the Hudson.”
Whether any of us live to see Amtrak’s Gateway Tunnel become a reality remains to be seen, but it has a few champions in Washington and an assist from Superstorm Sandy. Senator Chuck Schumer, who has recently adopted the cause, announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation will deliver the $185 million Amtrak has requested to preserve space in the Hudson Yards area for two more Hudson River rail tunnels. The money is part of the Sandy relief and fortification funds.
Specifically, the money will go toward an 800-foot-long tunnel box between 10th and 11th Avenues that will carve out the right-of-way for a pair of flood-resistant rail tubes. Without his money, Related Companies’ construction at the Hudson Yards would have moved forward blocking the opportunity to build Gateway for the foreseeable future. Last week, though, Amtrak, the LIRR and Related Companies reached an agreement on the construction of the tunnel box, and the federal dollars assure progress will go forward, inch by inch.
“When Sandy flooded our tunnels it exposed a fatal flaw in our already maxed-out transit infrastructure and demonstrated beyond a doubt we needed a new flood-resistant train-tunnel into and out of Manhattan. This project will build the gate in the ‘Gateway’ tunnel and secures the future of rail for New York City and all of the Northeast Corridor, making our rail infrastructure more efficient and much more flood resistant from storms like Sandy,” Schumer said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is the first step of a long-term mitigation investment in New York. I am pleased that Secretary LaHood will award this much-needed funding to preserve a path for new train tunnels into Manhattan.”
Amtrak’s Gateway tunnel and its accompanying plans for high-speed rail on the Northeast Corridor are no sure thing. The costs — estimated last year at $125 billion — are astronomical, and no funding is in place. Yet, the rail provider seems intent on delivering at least the Gateway Tunnel to improve train service through New York City, and with work beginning on the Hudson Yards development, it must act soon to preserve space.
To that end, Amtrak has unveiled plans to consruct a tunnel box in the Hudson Yards space for future tunneling. “The point is we need to protect this alignment,” Petra Todorovich Messick said earlier this week. “This is sort of the last viable connection to bring tunnels under the Hudson River and connect them directly to Penn Station.”
According to other reports, construction will start in the fall with Related Cos. taking the contracting lead. A federal grant of $150 million will pay for the placeholder starter tunnels. Overall, Gateway is estimated to cost $15 billion and could be ready for revenue service by 2025 if funding is put in place. It may still be a longshot, but it’s inching closer to reality. Saving the space now could go a long way toward pushing Gateway forward.
Six years ago, when the Democrats rode a mid-term election sweep into control of the House and Senate. At the time, Chuck Schumer, New York’s then and current senior senator, pledged infrastructure dollars for New York State, and thus, the Second Ave. Subway — and this site — were born.
Over the past six years, a lot has changed, and a lot has stayed the same. We’ve seen megaprojects come and go on and on; we’ve seen the promise of a trans-Hudson rail crossing rise and fall. It’s still a struggle to secure federal (or state) dollars for transit projects, and Schumer is still in the Senate trying to throw his weight around. This time around, he has his eyes on the Gateway Tunnel, an Amtrak project that would be part of a northeast high-speed rail network and could improve train service through New York City.
On Friday, Schumer announced his intentions to push through the Gateway Tunnel with an eye toward a possible groundbreaking as early as 2013. Crain’s New York had more on Schumer’s efforts and how the Hudson Yards development is a motivating factor:
Mr. Schumer said with enough federal funding and all the relevant players on board, the project could break ground as early as the end of 2013. Usually it takes years before work can begin on such a complex, multi-billion dollar effort. “It’s a truly significant project,” Mr. Schumer said at a breakfast forum in midtown Manhattan sponsored by the New York Building Congress. “It’s the kind of big idea that could shape the way New York City looks decades from now.”
Two rail tunnels connect New Jersey and New York, and both are more than 100 years old. The Gateway project was unveiled in February 2011, after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, citing potential cost overruns, killed the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) project, which was to include a train tunnel under the Hudson. Congress approved an initial $15 million for Gateway in November 2011 and Mr. Schumer said an additional $20 million was close to being secured. The total project is expected to cost $13-$15 billion and will not be completed before 2020.
A new urgency has been brought to the project, Mr. Schumer said, since Amtrak’s engineers determined that the best place to construct Gateway (which would have one tunnel in each direction) was directly under the Hudson Yards development on Manhattan’s West Side. The Related Companies is expected to break ground on the massive, mixed-use project late this year. Both Related and Long Island Rail Road, the right-of-way property owners underneath Hudson Yards, are supportive of Gateway, he said. “That means we need to build these tunnels now,” the senior senator said. “We can’t wait for the rest of the project to be formulated or nothing will happen.”
There a few items of note happening here. First, Schumer has significant weight in Washington and the ability to push through a project of this magnitude. If the tunnel can be built now and maintained as both an active rail line and a future provision for high-speed rail, then all the better. We need that new rail crossing sooner rather than later.
Second, someone other than a New Jersey representative or politician is finally making noises about a trans-Hudson tunnel. When the ARC Tunnel met its end, New Yorkers were by and large silent. This was New Jersey’s project, and they let New Jersey hash out the fallout. Now, with Amtrak a national — or at least a regional — concern, politicians from both sides of the Hudson can come together to support such a tunnel. It would have been better to pursue such a path originally, but better late than never. Now, we’ll have to see if this tunnel can survive to see the light of day unlike its ARC Tunnel cousin.
It’s been 20 months since Gov. Chris Christie canceled the ARC Tunnel project, and its replacement has yet to move forward. Billed as a better solution than the deep-cavern terminal underneath Macys, the Gateway Tunnel has been put forward as a key element in any high-speed rail plan as well as a solution to the trans-Hudson bottleneck. Yet, we’re no closer today to seeing the Gateway Tunnel materialize than we were a year ago.
Recently, region transit advocates and Gateway Tunnel proponents have started to open a dialogue on the tunnel. No one denies the need for it, but it will take a great deal of political maneuverings to see it realized. “What should be clear is that nobody, nobody is debating that we need this,” Amtrak board member and former Port Authority Chairman Anthony Coscia said.
So what’s the problem? Why has this project gone nowhere? Money seems to be the answer. Steve Strunsky of The Star-Ledger has more on the effort to draw out support for the tunnel:
What is still far from clear, however, is where the money will come from to fund the Gateway project’s estimated $13 billion to $15 billion cost. Estimates for the ARC project were $9.8 billion to $14 billion when Christie bailed out on it in late 2010, saying New Jersey taxpayers would be unfairly stuck with the tab for overruns. He has not ruled out support for the Gateway plan, which he has said would better serve commuters.
So to boost the general public’s awareness of Gateway, stimulate interest among potential participants and help the project pick up steam in Washington, D.C., Trenton and Albany, proponents hosted what they said was the first forum to bring together representatives of the three rail agencies and others likely to share in its benefits and costs.
Coscia’s remarks capped the morning conference, which was held at the Princeton Club in Manhattan. It was hosted by the Regional Plan Association, a planning and transportation think tank, and the General Contractors Association of New York, whose members stand to work on the Gateway project. “Yes, we’re contractors — we build infrastructure,” said the association’s managing director, Denise Richardson. “But we also live in the region.”
For now, as Strunsky notes, a lot of the same people are bringing up the same talking points they’ve been rehashing for nearly two years. Meanwhile, in the halls of power — in D.C. and Trenton and Albany — a resolute nothing has happened. Outside of a token Senate appropriation, no one has taken the lead on this project from a federal standpoint, and Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo seem to be engaged in a battle of who can say less when asked for comment on Gateway’s future. “We’ll see where it goes,” New Jersey’s State Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson said on gaining Christie’s support for the tunnel.
As the days and weeks and months tick away and the ARC Tunnel becomes a distant memory, the Gateway saga reminds me of the point MTA Chairman Joe Lhota made last week. To improve the region’s transportation options and access to the city core, we all will have to learn to work together. Cuomo and Christie will have to join forces, and Washington, DC, will have to be a significant funding partner. That is far, far easier said than done.
At this point, in a major election year, any real progress on Gateway will both be on hold until after November and depend heavily upon the outcomes of the key races. The region’s trans-Hudson rail capacity isn’t going to increase by itself though, and while everyone seems to recognize the need for more tunnels, no one has been willing to do much about it. How utterly disappointing.
When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie canceled the ARC Tunnel, a few projects rushed in to the fill the void. We know the 7 train to Secaucus won’t happen any time soon, but Amtrak’s Gateway Tunnel seems to have legs. Projected today to cost $14.5 billion and still an optimistic decade away from seeing the light of day, Gateway is nonetheless moving through Congress.
As NorthJersey.com’s Karen Rouse reported, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a $20 million grant for preliminary design and engineering work. The measure still must clear the full House and Senate, but transit advocates are cautiously optimistic. “It’s the most promising rail project at the moment,” Veronica Vanterpool of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign said. That’s not saying much as after preliminary engineering work, the price tag for Gateway has jumped by $1 billion and the estimated completion date has moved from 2020 to 2025.
Gateway is of course part of an intercity high-speed rail network that could change long-distance commuting patterns in the northeast. It’s not quite a solution to commuter issues that current plague New Jersey Transit. Plus, someone will have to come up with those billions of dollars, and New York and New Jersey aren’t rushing to embrace this project. It may not have much of a long-term future, but for now, planning may move forward.
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.
In addition to increased cross-Hudson capacity, one of the primary benefits New Jersey commuters would have derived from the ARC Tunnel concerned travel speeds. As New Jersey Transit, its equipment and its lone Hudson river crossing are configured, riders along the Raritan Valley and North Jersey Coast Lines do not enjoy one-seat rides into New York City. Through a combination of equipment upgrades and capacity increases, commute times would have dropped and property values would have increased.
With ARC off the table and its replacement years or even decades away, New Jersey Transit officials are trying to deliver on that one-seat promise without a new tunnel. Earlier this week, NJ Transit Executive Director James Weinstein pledged that he would work to make the one-seat ride a reality along the Raritan Valley and North Jersey Coast Lines. Larry Higgs from the Asbury Park Press offers up a little bit more:
In both cases, NJ Transit officials will go forward with equipment purchases that were part of the Access to the Region’s Core (ARC) tunnel project, canceled by Gov. Chris Christie in October over concerns about cost overruns the state would have had to absorb. “One of the issues is acquisition of more bilevels,” Weinstein said. “There are 100 on order and we’ll go forward with that.”
The first of 36 dual-mode electric and diesel-powered locomotives, which will be essential to providing one-seat ride service on rail lines now served by diesel locomotives, is scheduled to be delivered to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s testing facility in Colorado, Weinstein said.
“I don’t think anything precludes a one-seat ride,” he said. “We’re going forward with the dual-mode locomotives. There are issues we have to work out at some point to provide a one-seat ride.”
Beyond Higgs’ story, news reports don’t add much to this revelation, and I’m curious as to where it will go from here. The main problem is that the Hudson River tunnels cannot handle increased traffic, and if New Jersey Transit is promising new one-seat rides along certain routes, it will likely have to take away some river crossings from other routes. That’s not going to be too popular among commuters.
Meanwhile, an alternative to Amtrak’s Gateway alternative is making the rounds. As Higgs also reported earlier this week, New Jersey rail advocates have proposed yet another plan to build a tunnel. He reports:
The plan, outlined by Joseph Clift, a member of the Regional Rail Working Group and a past Long Island Railroad planning director, would put off building some of the more potentially expensive parts of the Gateway project to a second phase. As a first phase, the group proposed building a new two-tube tunnel, a new bridge next to the existing Portal Bridge and a second set of tracks on the Northeast Corridor line from Kearny to the Hudson River to relieve bottlenecks.
Gateway’s plans to build a “Penn Station South,” consisting of seven tracks and four platforms under Manhattan’s 31st Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues, would be deferred to a second phase under the group’s plan. That phase would include Gateway’s proposal to construct two new sets of tracks between the Passaic River and west of Secaucus Junction, a second set of platforms at that station and some new bridges.
“It is a much more accomplishable project,” Clift said. “You would have a project that is more affordable (to start) because all the Manhattan property cost (for Penn Station South) goes away.”
Funding would come from a variety of sources. New Jersey would reapply for the $3 billion in federal funds it sacrificed when Gov. Chris Christie canceled ARC while the Port Authority would contribute its billions as well. New Jersey and Amtrak would contribute money as well.
With all this talk though of replacement plans and one-seat rides, I have to wonder if too many cooks are stirring the cross-Hudson soup. New York is working on formulating a plan for the 7 line extension with New Jersey while Amtrak is requesting $50 million to start planning on NEPA work on their Gateway Tunnel. This third proposal throws yet another variable in the mix and could garner support from state officials in New Jersey. At some point, the region will need a concerted, unified and funded effort if cross-Hudson rail expansion is to be realized any time soon.
By now, it’s hardly a debate that the New York City region needs more cross-Hudson crossings for all sorts of transportation modalities. Rail access into Midtown from New Jersey is woefully inadequate, and further upstate, the Tappan Zee Bridge is sagging under the weight of age and auto traffic. New York and New Jersey have various plans to replace and expand this infrastructure, but who will pay for it?
Most famous of the recent attempts at bridging the waters is the ARC Tunnel. Canceled by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over a mixture of purely partisan politics and legitimate concerns that could have been addressed, the tunnel would have increased capacity across the Hudson River for New Jersey commuters. Instead, New Jersey may get an Amtrak-sponsored tunnel ten years down the road if the stars align right.
Today, New Jersey politicians are united in keeping federal money that should have gone to the project. They argue that returning the funds would jeopardize a future project. “While some of us may differ on whether or not the ARC project should have been cancelled,” a letter sent by the state’s Congressional delegation reads, “we are united in our effort to protect New Jersey taxpayers from harm. We are deeply concerned that forcing New Jersey to pay these funds will undermine efforts for a new Trans-Hudson tunnel, and require the State to postpone or cancel other essential, job-creating transit projects throughout the State. This will only exacerbate the State’s transportation and economic challenges, and impose an unfair burden on taxpayers in New Jersey.”
Of course, the ultimate fate of $270 million won’t determine the future of the Gateway Tunnel or any cross-Hudson improvements. Rather, as lawmakers attempt to struggle with the demand for better infrastructure and the inability to pay for any of it, they are turning to the idea of privatization. As an opening salvo, take this story about the Gateway Tunnel. In it, local businesses around the current Penn Station area talk about how thrilled they would be for a new tunnel and a bigger train station to arrive. “It would be tremendous for our business,” one bar owner said.
That’s the argument for privatization simplified and placed in a nutshell. Cities build great public works because the residents benefit, but at the same time, private interests often derive just as much, if not, in economic value from these projects. Second Ave. businesses are suffering today, but in six or seven years, the area will be booming with better access.
North of the city, lawmakers are even more intrigued by privatization. As the state looks to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge, it simply doesn’t have the money. The project will cost just $8.3 billion without rail and bus lanes and over $16 billion with them. “Unless things change very favorably rather quickly, it’s unlikely that either the federal or state government will be able to finance the changes they’re talking about,” New York State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins said to the Journal. “I’m not uncomfortable with finding private partners.”
Andrew Grossman talked more about these efforts last week:
More cities and states are turning to private companies to help fund their infrastructure or plug budget gaps. It’s a practice common in Europe and Asia, but one that has been slower to catch on in the U.S. Now, though, the firms that have done those projects are circling American state and local governments.
But private investors ultimately need to make money and want some control over the ability to set tolls. New York officials say some of those deals make them wary. Chicago’s sale of its parking-meter revenue—and the rate increases that resulted—have sparked a political backlash there.
“You don’t want to give the government authority away totally,” said Robert Gottheim, an aide to Rep. Jerry Nadler, a Manhattan Democrat who’s active on transportation issues. “While we are certainly interested in it, the devil’s in the details.”
Those details include a range of possible deals, from the unlikely option of entirely privatizing the bridge to simply contracting with a company to manage the entire construction process. Currently, different pieces of state projects are bid out to different contractors.
If lawmakers can throw a proper carrot to private investors — in the form of toll oversight or worse — private money will flow toward infrastructure. Of course, the state must retain some modicum of control over its infrastructure, and as funds are tight, it’s the right to ask about how these private deals will take shape. Can they lead to better rail access and new bridges without exacting too high a cost on taxpayers? If history is any guide, it’s tough to see just how this will play out across a region straining at its infrastructure seams.