As seen in this 2012 photo, the lower level platform at 42nd and 8th Ave. has been bisected by the 7 line extension. (Photo by Benjamin Kabak)

Yesterday, as part of the countdown to the opening of the 7 line extension, I took a look back at the lost opportunities at 41st St. that will plague this project until and unless the MTA builds the omitted station. Today, we look at something else the new 1.5 mile tunnel had to cut through to reach the Hudson Yards: an abandoned subway platform underneath 8th Ave. at 42nd Street.

The IND’s stop at 42nd St. and 8th Ave. is a funny little quirk of history. It hasn’t seen passenger service March of 1981 and was most famously featured in the movie Ghost in 1990. It’s a one-track, one-platform nearly unique in the system and once served as the staging ground for special Aqueduct service and as a staging ground for certain rush-hour E trains. It’s an odd duck in a system filled with odd ducks.

So what’s the story with this Lower Level platform? We’re long on theories for this one. When the IND opened in the early 1930s, the city had built a shell of a lower level at 42nd St. and 8th Ave., but the station remained unfinished until the 1950s. Why they even bothered with finishing it is a very good question. My favorite theory on the murky origins of the lower level comes to us via the station’s page:

An oft-repeated story offers this as a reason the lower level was built: The Independent subway was being built by the city to compete directly with routes owned by the IRT and BMT companies. The #7 crosstown IRT line terminates at Times Square; it is said that the bumper blocks of the #7 are directly against or very close to the eastern wall of the lower level of the 42nd St. IND station. The construction of the lower level therefore blocked any potential extension of the #7 line to the west side of Manhattan. If this is true, it would have been done only in the spirit of crushing the competition, for the IND had no plans to construct a competing crosstown line.

It is, of course, that same 7 crosstown IRT line that signals the death, in part, of the lower level at 42nd St. To build out the train to 34th St. and 11th Ave., the MTA had to construct the tracks directly through the old platform. You can see the tunnel box in the photo atop this post, and I have a few other shots of the old platform from my 2012 tour of the 7 line. You can see where new constructed bisected the old station and where new systems are attached to old. The station is a weird ghost platform that looks like a dystopian version of the platform above it, and it will never see train service again. At least, after over 30 years of sitting fallow, trains will soon begin to pass through this abandoned and barely understood piece of New York City history, albeit more literally than the IND’s builders ever intended.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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Considering how rare it is these days for the New York City subway system to gain track mileage and new stations, next month’s long-awaited opening of the 7 line extension at Hudson Yards is a moment to celebrate. The MTA expects the new station at 34th St. and 11th Ave. to one day be among the most popular in the city, and the stop opens up the new development at the Hudson Yards, the Javits Center, part of the High Line, the Bolt Bus staging ground and an otherwise marginalized area of Manhattan to the subway system. The costs were exceedingly high though; the only reason the 7 line isn’t the most expensive subway project in the world is because the Second Ave. Subway is even more costly. But besides the dollars, the city and the MTA sacrificed an opportunity for even more, and the decision to cut the stop at 41st and 10th Ave. isn’t one easy to overcome.

The history of New York City’s subway system is filled with broken promises and grandiose plans that never came to be. Now and then, remnants of what never was crop up in unexpected ways. The 2010 Underbelly Project in the South 4th St. station shell reminded the city of grand plans for a Second System that were pushed aside over the years due to the Great Depression, a World War and the rise of the automobile and Robert Moses. The history of a cross-Bronx subway echoes through the tail tracks north of the D train’s Norwood – 205th Street terminus. The IRT’s dead end at Flatbush Ave. speaks of a Nostrand Ave. subway Sheepshead Bay still yearns for today. Now, we can add the 7 line to this list.

When the one-stop extension opens on Sunday, September 13, riders won’t notice the provisioning for a station at 41st and 10th Ave., but it’s there. The slope of the tunnels have been flattened out through the area where a train station would be to allow for future construction. Once planned as a station with an island platform, provisioning would allow for an in-fill, side platform station with no cross-overs or transfers to be built one day if money materializes. The costs of any future construction are expected to be significantly higher than the price tag attached to the station had it been built over the last few years, and after a burst of activity a few years ago, no one is talking about funding it anymore. It may just be lost to time.

So what happened? The history is a lesson on understanding what “on time and on budget” in MTA-speak really means. When the Bloomberg Administration first proposed funding the 7 line extension, the plans called for two stations — one at 41st St. and 10th Ave. and another at 34th St. and 11th Ave, and the MTA and city agreed on a $2.4 billion budget. Nearly immediately, it became clear that the MTA couldn’t deliver on this budget, and plans for a station at 41st St. turned into plans for a shell of a station at 41st St. The finishes would come later when the money materialized, but even that idea was in jeopardy.

As I noted back in 2006 in the fourth post in this site’s history, the MTA would likely to have to cut the plans to construct even a shell at 41st St. when costs became untenable. In late 2007, the move became official when the one project bid came in at around $500 million over budget. The MTA refused to spend a dime on Bloomberg’s pet project, and even an offer to split the bill for the shell 50-50 went nowhere. Chuck Schumer made some noises about resolving the dispute, but federal money was tied up in the 9/11 recovery funds and the Second Ave. Subway grant. In the end, in a game of political and economic chicken, no one blinked, and the opportunity to build the station at the time disappeared. A few years ago, costs were estimated to be at least $800 million for the station, up significantly from the $500 million price tag eight years ago.

So why wasn’t it built? Words from the city in 2008 that have been repeated as talking points by Dan Doctoroff speak volumes for what was the guiding philosophy behind the subway extension. “Unlike the extension to 34th Street and 11th Avenue, which the city is funding, a 10th Avenue station is not necessary to drive growth there,” a spokesperson for the deputy mayor for economic development said. “A Tenth Avenue station would be nice, but it’s really a straight transportation project versus an economic development catalyst.”

To those who live in those new high rises in the West 40s on the Far West Side (or those who will move into the 1400-unit building now going up right where the station should have been, sorry. It’s “just” a transportation project isn’t a good enough reason for a new subway station that would have been around for the subway’s next 110 years. To the team funding the subway, “economic development” was the driving argument and not the need to improve mobility.

So we’re finally getting the new train stop. As the project was supposed to wrap in late 2013, it wasn’t on time, and as the project was supposed to have two stations, or at least a shell of a second, it wasn’t on budget. Instead, we have a badly needed and much appreciated subway stop and a reminder yet again that New York City failed to take full advantage of an opportunity to address holes in its vital subway system. The MTA isn’t fighting for the 10th Ave. station, and it’s just a blip in their 20-year plan. I don’t think I’m going out a limb when I say we won’t see it in any of our lifetimes, and that’s a huge missed opportunity.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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So as Ye Olde Towne of London gets ready to unveil a truly novel concept — 24-hour Tube service on some lines — the plan has hit a snag. The problem is that the union and Transport for London officials have not come to terms on how best to staff the new service, and they won’t be able to debut the new service on September 12th as originally planned. The dispute centers around quality-of-life concerns, as union officials are not satisfied with TFL’s staffing plans for the new 24-hour service and worry that their members’ work-life balance will be disrupted by overnight shifts. Eventually, the two sides will come to terms, likely when TFL agrees to hire new employees for the overnight shifts and the unions expand their work roles. Still, Londoners are now left with a longer wait for 24-hour service.

Coming from the U.K., we have another story on public transit, this one concerning a popular word. The Oxford Dictionaries — part of Oxford University Press which publishes the Oxford English Dictionary — has determined that manspreading is a word, despite my autocorrect’s never-ending attempts at making it two words. Officially, the definition extends to any instance of manspreading, and here’s how Oxford defines it: “The practice whereby a man, especially one travelling on public transport, adopts a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat or seats.” Make of that what you will; the MTA’s newest mugs and magnets remain a crowning achievement related to this new word.

In case you missed it, the big news this week concerned the official opening of the 7 line extension. It’s slated for Sunday, September 13, and I’ll be on hand with camera to file a full report. Look out for some posts related to the 7 line next week. I also took a look at the flaws in the ferry plan and funding the MTA’s capital plan through a surcharge on taxi rides. You can also catch me on Instagram and Twitter. After the jump come this weekend’s service advisories. Read More→

Categories : Service Advisories
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The 7 line extension will open in September, but the station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. remains lost to time.

The 7 line extension will open in September, but the station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. remains lost to time.

After promising to open the new one-stop extension of the 7 line to the Far West Side by September 13, the MTA made it officially official today: The 34th Street-Hudson Yards stop will open for service at 1 p.m. on Sunday, September 13. The first train in revenue service to arrive at the new station will be the 12:26 out of Flushing, coming in at 1:03 p.m., and the first to leave the station is scheduled to depart at 1:07 p.m.

The station was originally supposed to open by the end of 2013, but various problems with inclined elevators and fire safety systems, among others, continued to plague the project as it neared the finish line. We will forever mourn too the loss of a station at 41st St. and 10th, the victim of shortsighted political squabbling over $500 million. Now who wants to bet that the Second Ave. Subway will open by the end of next year?

Categories : 7 Line Extension
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Let’s start with a premise that not everyone seems to accept: The MTA and Uber — along with the MTA and green taxis, yellow taxis and your favorite local car service — aren’t really competitors. While the recent spike in volume of black taxis due to Uber is problematic for other reasons, these two services aren’t competing, as Cap’n Transit recently detailed, for the same dollars these days.

That doesn’t mean, in a somewhat twisted way, Uber can’t be helpful to the MTA, but it does mean you should raise a very skeptical eyebrow at coverage that says Uber is “costing the MTA dearly.” When that coverage then that states that “dearly” means $1 million a year — which is around 0.007 percent of the MTA’s annual operating budget, you should just laugh it off as uninformed tabloid sensationalism. But I digress. Let’s talk about taxis and the MTA’s finances.

For a few years, the state has collected a 50-cent surcharge on every yellow and green taxi ride, and this money goes toward the MTA’s finances. One of the reasons revenue has dipped from $48 million annual to $47 million is because Uber has eaten into these cabs’ shares of rides. Now, as the MTA faces a significant budget gap and the state and the city will have to implement something to generate dollars, the Citizens Budget Commission, as part of its effort to promote a 50-25-25 MTA funding plan (where fares cover 50%, taxes 25% and cross-subsidies from cars 25%), has put forth a call to tax all subway rides. You can read the full policy brief right here. Here’s the meat of it in three proposals:

Expand Coverage of Per-Ride Taxicab Tax. The current 50-cent per-ride taxicab tax is intended to charge riders, who do not necessarily pay other cross-subsidies from vehicle ownership, for the negative externalities of their trips. By this logic, applying the tax to all black car trips, including DSPs, would have raised an additional $33 million in 2015. This amount would grow to between $34 million and $55 million by 2019.

Increase and Expand Per-Ride Taxicab Tax. When the taxicab tax was instituted in 2011, it represented approximately 4.73 percent of the average taxi fare. After increases in taxicab fares, the figure is 3.95 percent today. If the tax applied to black cars, including DSPs, were set at a rate, rather than an amount (50 cents), then the tax would be 3.95 percent of the fare. With black car fares averaging more than $27, their average tax would be about $1.00 rather than 50 cents. This new tax on black car riders would have generated an additional $70 million in 2015 and between $73 million and $117 million in 2019.

Transportation Sales Tax Reform. A third option is to lower the burden on black car riders and dedicate the entire tax to the MTA. The new rate could be set sufficient to close the MTA funding gap; a rate of 5.75 percent, assuming that current trends in the industry continue to 2019, would cover debt service on $2.6 billion of borrowing. While this option would require the State and City to forfeit sales tax revenue from this industry, it would fund the shortfall in the MTA’s capital plan and provide a likely growing revenue stream for this purpose from both jurisdictions.

It’s easy to misinterpret this report as an attack on Uber, as Uber is mentioned 30 times while yellow, green and livery cabs are mentioned a combined 40 times, but it’s not an attack on Uber as much as it is a challenge to allocate funds in a way that captures the negative externalities of auto trips on surface streets in New York City. To that end, one of these proposals should be implemented, and I’d lean toward the third option as it would generate sufficient revenue for the MTA to fund debt service for capital plan borrowing.

A final idea comes to us from Stephen Miller at Streetsblog. He calls upon the city and state to implement a variable surcharge on taxi rides that would mirror a congestion pricing scheme. “Ideally,” he writes, “the surcharge paid by yellow taxis, Uber, and other for-hire services would be higher in the congested Manhattan core than in outer-borough neighborhoods lacking decent transit service. While that wouldn’t be a substitute for real congestion pricing of all motor vehicle trips, it could set a precedent and demonstrate the impact of congestion-based fees on a substantial portion of Manhattan traffic.” This too seems to me like a no-brainer if we want to combat congestion while generating money for the MTA.

Ultimately, these CBC proposal and Miller’s plan are ideas that will have to be addressed by city and state politicians who have been challenged to fund the MTA’s capital plan gap. We’ll hear more about the political battles as the fall unfolds, but right now, during summer, the ideas are percolating appropriately.

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As anyone who’s kept up with my site over the years knows, I’m not a particularly big fan of the recent push to expand the city’s ferry network. If handled properly and if geography and economic forces dictate accordingly, boats can be a complementary part of a comprehensive transit network, but the recent attention — from Washington Heights to Soundview to Bay Ridge to the Rockaways — on expanding the network seems to treat ferries as a comprehensive solution to some of the travel woes affecting the city’s more isolated areas. As a history of failed ferry companies and eliminated routes tell show us, ferries are not the panacea they are promised to be.

The latest round of ferry fetishization comes to us from the Economic Development Corporation. The city agency recently unveiled plans for an extensive ferry network, and at the time, the mayor said, apparently with a straight face, that he expects the new ferry routes to help alleviate subway congestion problems. That’s almost as crazy as the idea that pedestrian plazas should be ripped up because of a handful of aggressive costumed characters and desnudas asking for tips, but I digress.

Now that the ferry service is inching closer to reality, the details are becoming clearer, and the planning seems to be as flawed as I feared it would be. Last week, Brooklyn’s Community Board 6 heard a presentation on the Red Hook plan, and what they heard does not inspire much confidence in the potential popularity of the ferry network. Two reports focused on different, but equally as problematic, aspects of the new service.

The first concerns fare payment and comes courtesy of DNA Info:

The planned Citywide Ferry System will begin service in the spring of 2017 with three routes — South Brooklyn, Astoria and Rockaway — but its $2.75 ticket will not integrate with the MTA’s MetroCard fare system or allow free transfers to subways and buses, city officials said at a community meeting Thursday night.

Without a free transfer, most riders who do not work within walking distance of their docks would effectively see their transportation costs double. But the higher cost would still be in the range of the fare for an express bus, said Lydia Downing, the city Economic Development Corporation’s vice president and deputy director for government and community relations.

“I think it’s a dealbreaker if you can’t get it integrated with the MetroCard,” Bahij Chancey, an architect and Cobble Hill resident, told the EDC at the meeting. Commuters won’t bother with the additional ticket and the extra fare, and the city will find there isn’t enough rider revenue to sustain the operation, he said.

EDC officials claimed that the fare payment system could be integrated with the MTA’s once the agency phases out the MetroCard, but that’s not likely to happen before the initial three-year ferry pilot term expires. For now, the ferries will create a two-fare system, and that’s not a plus in my book. We’ll revisit that in a few paragraphs.

The other problem concerns terminal location. The Brooklyn Paper summarizes:

The city should jetty-son its plan to open a new commuter ferry stop on the southern edge of Red Hook and drop anchor in Atlantic Basin instead, say locals. Officials intend to send ferries to either the privately-owned Van Brunt Street pier or the city-owned parkland Valentino Pier when the city expands its ferry services in 2017. But those sites are out of walking distance for many Red Hookers, not close enough to transit, and lack parking, critics said.

“The two locations you have picked — unless they can take their car, fold it up, and put it in their briefcase — there is no parking,” said Jerry Armer, who is a member of Community Board 6, which encompasses Red Hook. Instead, locals are floating their own plan to open the dock in Atlantic Basin, in the corner closest to Conover Street, which they said has a giant parking lot and is closer to more Hook homes.

The idea of creating a ferry terminal that requires a car to be accessible to the neighborhood it’s supposed to serve is completely anathema to ferries as a solution to the transit problem; the two-fare system simply exacerbates and underscores this flaw.

Red Hook, in particular, is a prime spot for ferry service. It’s surrounded by water, isolated from the subway system, and contains a high amount of lower- and middle-income housing. It’s an area may regard as a transit desert, and yet, the ferries don’t help those citizens who can’t reach transit. By locating terminals too far from the public housing complexes — which aren’t near the water in the first place — and instituting a two-fare system, the ferries are essentially unreachable and unaffordable for those most in need of better access. If ferries can’t work for Red Hook, what chances do the rest of the proposed system have?

Ultimately, these flawed plans leave me with the same question I’ve had from the start: If the city is willing to subsidize expensive ferry service so that the fare for a boat ride is $2.75 but won’t ensure a transfer to a bus or subway, would New Yorkers be better off if the EDC simply invested the money in a better bus network for Red Hook or even a light rail system on a dedicated set of tracks running from Borough Hall to Red Hook to Smith/9th Sts.? If the Red Hook ferry — particularly low-hanging fruit — is being set up to fail, it’s hard to think otherwise.

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As the dog days of August melt away, transit news generally grinds to a halt. Generally, the subways keep running through what the MTA feels are low ridership days, but until the September opening of the 7 line and the next round of MTA board meetings roll around, action on outstanding items is slow. Instead, we fill the hours debating other issues surrounding livable streets and livable cities and wonder how we wound up with a supposedly populist who’s even considering removing popular populist features of New York City.

But that’s neither here nor there for this morning’s purposes. Today, we revisit the MTA’s capital plan. It’s been a few weeks since Gov. Andrew Cuomo committed to delivering over $8 billion in state funding for the five-year program. We still haven’t heard if the city will take Cuomo up on his challenge to contribute more money, and we don’t know how the state is going to generate that $8 billion. New York can’t just print money, and the Governor has spent the last few years rolling back the MTA-supporting payroll tax. He seems downright hostile as well to support of a Move New York-esque traffic pricing plan, and the mayor hasn’t leapt to pick up that mantle either.

Those are issues that are going to have to be solved in the coming months, but interested parties watching the happenings are growing sick of waiting. Enter Crain’s New York. The business magazine opined on the need to just fund the darn thing already in an editorial by three members of the Business and Labor Coalition of New York’s Infrastructure Initiative Committee:

New York’s commitment, or lack thereof, is a reflection of our state’s priorities and an indicator of our future. According to the General Contractors Association of New York, 83% of subway stations are in poor repair, 37% of MTA’s mainline signals have exceeded their useful life, and tunnels and bridges in dire need of repair are too numerous to name. Simply fixing the system, debt aside, requires a serious capital investment. Completing projects conceived to improve the current system—including the long-awaited Second Avenue subway—requires, at the very least, the funding of the five-year capital plan approved by the MTA board of directors.

Again, this is not merely a matter of transportation, safety or convenience. The 2010-2014 capital program generated 350,000 jobs and $44 billion for New York state. According to the New York Building Congress, the MTA alone accounts for 25% of New York’s construction industry.

The governor is concerned about how to pay for the capital plan and does not want to raise taxes. This is understandable on both a political and practical level. However, it is absolutely necessary that the governor, mayor and legislature find a way to fund this plan.

Crain’s editorial is important because it touches upon the first elephant in the room: It’s impossible for the state economy and construction industry to live without the MTA’s capital plan. It generates such a significant amount of work and jobs that letting the money lapse without a real way forward would be tantamount to financial suicide. The General Contractors Association has long been on the side of the MTA’s when it comes to asking for money, and the 2015-2019 capital plan is no exception.

And yet, the contractors are also the second elephant in the room and one no one wants to discuss. Setting aside for now the fact that the MTA’s five-year plan asks for significant funding for projects that don’t yet have set budgets, the agency’s construction costs are out of line with other transit agencies the world over. For a sampling, read through Alon Levy’s various posts on cost comparisons. The MTA is asking for approval for a $28 billion plan because that’s what their costs are alleged to be, but $28 billion simply doesn’t go that far in New York City. You could build Crossrail 2, for instance, three times over with $28 billion, and nothing in the MTA’s capital plan approaches the scale of London’s massive expansion efforts. Similar, the 125-mile Paris Metro expansion is set to cost only around $30 billion total.

So these are the two elephants, competing or perhaps different sides of the same coin. We can’t live without the MTA capital plan because of the effect it has on the construction industry, but the construction industry seems to be forever pushing us toward an unaffordable cliff. Reconciling these two competing interests should be a part of the MTA’s five-year planning efforts, but so far, it has been noticeably absent from the conversations.

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After over three decades of transportation work, NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco retired on Friday. (Photo: MTA New York City Transit / Marc A. Hermann)

I don’t have too much to say here for now about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s week. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I don’t have a particularly high opinion of him, and I think his reactionary response to even consider removing the Times Square pedestrian plazas due to a bunch of half-naked women is very telling. He’s ineffective and doesn’t understand the constituency that put him in charge. I may write more, but check out Twitter for my shorter thoughts. I wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t even the Democratic nominee for mayor in 2017.

In Transit news, Friday was New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco’s last day on the job, and earlier this week, he gave an exit interview to amNew York. The takes are short, but Bianco offers some tantalizing tidbits, including this on upcoming subway car design:

The MTA is looking for a car that can last over 40 years and carry many people. “You may be able to fit more by looking at the seating arrangements — if you need to have seats down at all times,” said Bianco. “These are things on our minds as we design cars, and we see the crowds we have. What can we do to get more people on? Can we widen the doors, is that possible? Can we find a way so that people don’t stand near the doors, and people can get in and out? That’s all in design with our engineers.”

To me it sounds as though Bianco is talking about reviving the 2010 flip-seat pilot that went nowhere. That seems like a red herring, and I still don’t understand why the MTA is so resistant to open gangways. I explored this very topic in April and then saw open gangways in action throughout Europe this past summer. It’s a no-brainer really and one the MTA should implement immediately. The MTA is still seeking for a successor to Bianco.

Finally, weekend service changes. After the jump, find out how you can get around this weekend. Read More→

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As the efforts to bring plans for a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel to fruition take off, political infighting is going to be a significant challenge. Just a few days after Gov. Chris Christie met with the feds, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer engaged in some unprovoked sniping over Christie’s decision to cancel the ARC Tunnel and was appropriately dismissed by Christie’s team. While I’ve been long critical of the ARC move, at this point, Christie is willing to talk, and moving forward on a new tunnel is more important than rehashing the past over the old.

Stringer’s words and Christie’s response are both indicative of the petty bickering that could hamper this project. New York and New Jersey are going to have to present a unified front, and they’re off to a rocky start. But the Stringer incident is small beans compared with the in-fighting that could threaten New York’s side of this project. We’ve also seen Gov. Andrew Cuomo dig in on the funding issues, and now other New York City representatives are chiming in. The latest comes from — where else? — Staten Island. As first reported by Politco New York’s Dana Rubinstein, newly elected Congressman Dan Donovan is skeptical of the tunnel for all the wrong reasons.

In a press release, Donovan “voiced reservations” over the tunnel plans because he feels Staten Island’s priorities should come first:

“Modern, efficient public transportation is obviously critical to our region, and we need to do what we can to relieve congestion.” Congressman Donovan said. “But for decades Staten Island has been ignored and forgotten, and the results are clear: no community in the entire country faces a longer commute than us. It’s disheartening to sit in traffic while listening to news updates about multibillion dollar investments for another underwater rail tunnel from New Jersey to Manhattan. It’s time to get serious about viable transportation alternatives here at home.”

Through the gas tax, Staten Islanders likely pay more per capita into the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund than the residents of any other borough. The federal government distributes those transportation dollars to state and local governments, which then prioritize projects for funding. New York City’s OneNYC plan did not identify any near-term transit expansion projects for Staten Island.

Options exist for the borough, such as a light rail on the West Shore and Bus Rapid Transit along the North Shore. Both would bring relief and opportunity by providing what the rest of New York City takes for granted – meaningful access to public transportation. The West Shore light rail alone, which would connect the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail system in New Jersey and stretch 13 miles to Richmond Valley Station, could see 13,000 riders per day. Congressman Donovan concluded, “I understand the importance of maintaining the regional infrastructure on which millions of people rely, and I will work toward a long-term transportation bill to provide funding certainty to regional planners. Still, it’s about time Staten Island got the attention it deserves. State and local planners have to prioritize this borough’s spiraling transportation challenges.”

On the one hand I understand Donovan’s call. He’s one of the few Staten Island voices actually arguing for transit for the borough, and his references to an expansion of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail or the West Shore line are the right ones. On the other hand, he shouldn’t be couching this pro-transit argument in an anti-Hudson tunnel press release. First, there’s no reason we can’t have both, and second, the scale just isn’t the same. The trans-Hudson tunnel is a vital connection for the region that serves nearly 20 times as many people as an HBLR expansion might.

Now, I can forgive Donovan here; he’s a bit new to this game. But in the back of my mind, I keep thinking about how hard it is to take calls from Staten Island for better transit seriously. To rehash the near past, certain S.I. politicians have complained about nearly every transit improvements. State Senator Andrew Lanza railed against bus lanes and then had the audacity to call for more Staten Island transit. He’s also spearheaded a lengthy opposition to flashing lights on SBS vehicles, and he’s not the only State Islander similarly complaining. The borough wants more transit but doesn’t seem to want the density that comes with it.

Still, as the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation fights for light rail, Donovan should push the MTA to include funding for a study in its capital program proposals. But it doesn’t have to compete against trans-Hudson tunnels. That’s just counterproductive for all of New York.

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New Jersey officials discuss the future of a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel. (Via Sen. Cory Booker)

It’s hard to say where all of these meetings, editorials and statements about the need for a new trans-Hudson rail tunnel eventually lead to. For a few weeks — spurred on by an unfortunate assist from Hurricane Sandy and necessarily relentless coverage of delays caused by problems in Amtrak’s North River Tunnels — journalists, editorial boards, federal officials, transit advocates, and, yes, even elected representatives have been pushing forward on finding a way to build new tunnels. At $14-$20 billion depending upon the scope of the project, the ask is so far large and largely unjustified, but as the political dance continues, we have reason to remain cautiously optimistic that forces are aligning to do something. What that something is remains to be seen.

As we try to make sense of the latest developments, let’s turn to New Jersey where the Garden State politicians met yesterday with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. The meeting involved Gov. Chris Christie and Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker. Picking up on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s cues last week, the team discussed the need not for loans but for federal grants. With Christie on board, an annoying if necessary piece of the puzzle considering he’s one of the reasons why we’re in this mess, the group released a statement:

“Transit across the Hudson River carries an enormous and increasing share of this region’s workforce and economy, and it is clear that something must be done, and done now, as commuters continue to endure serious daily challenges that come with an aging infrastructure.

“We had a substantive and productive meeting today and all of us are committed to working together on a path forward on this critical project. Senator Booker, Senator Menendez, and Governor Christie will work with Secretary Foxx to obtain a substantial Federal grant contribution toward the Hudson River tunnels. In addition to grants, we will also work on other funding and financing options.

“The state of New Jersey supports the Gateway project and is committed to developing a framework with the Federal government to begin it. We all recognize that the only way forward is equitable distribution of funding responsibility and the active participation of all parties. As commuters can attest, we cannot afford further delay.”

It’s not clear what exactly is next for the Garden State pols, but Emma Fitzsimmons’ coverage in The Times notes that, as with any meeting, there were some takeaways. “There was a growing sense of optimism on Tuesday among officials that the project would advance, according to an official who attended the gathering,” she writes. “Another official said that attendees left the meeting with specific assignments or tasks to move the plans forward.”

But as with the tunnel, the politics runs across the Hudson. It may be true, as Cuomo has pushed, that New Jersey stands to lose more if Amtrak’s tubes fail than New York, but that’s a provincial, short-term look. New Yorkers use and need access to the rest of the country via the Hudson River rail tunnels, and New York is going to have to be a willing participant in this Herculean funding mission. Cuomo may be coming around, and he just may be playing the right angle now after a few weeks of recalcitrance.

In a piece I highly recommend you read, Dana Rubinstein explores how the tunnel is New York’s problem whether Cuomo recognizes it or not. The Port Authority, a body some in Washington are intent on pushing aside for the purposes of a new trans-Hudson tunnel, is his problem, and Cuomo will have to cooperate. His statements are all over the place.

Noting that he was “encouraged” by the New Jersey meeting — although not invited to the Garden State summit — Cuomo again called for direct federal contributions. “I think we all recognize the need to make up for years of discussions that did not produce tangible forward progress. I believe deeply in the need for this country and my state and region to invest in new infrastructure to maintain our economic prowess, and I stand ready to expedite any and all state processes to move this project forward. We in New York have invested in major road reconstruction, undertaken the largest single bridge project in the country in decades with the Tappan Zee Bridge and announced the only total reconstruction of a major airport in the country today,” he said. “In the same vein, I strongly support the construction of the new Hudson River tunnel – and a federal grant package that makes the project viable is an essential first step.”

This morning on New York 1 he kinda sorta rolled that back. He claimed his statements are working in that he is “provoking” the bureaucracy to do something, and in that sense, perhaps he’s playing a long game. Additionally, he has questioned the $20 billion price tag — a key line of argument that must be challenged as the project moves forward. What are we spending this money on and why does it cost so much more here than elsewhere? But his constant comparisons to the new Tappan Zee Bridge and LaGuardia Airport projects remain problematic as he hasn’t been transparent on costs or funding. Still, Cuomo pledged that New York would “do its fair share” and again called on the federal government to “step up” with funding.

So that’s a lot of talk. What next? The money. When? Your guess is as good as mine, but the sooner the better.

Categories : Gateway Tunnel
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